May Day Workers Rights Special - Interview with Liberation Nuts.
May Day is a time of celebration and recognition of worker struggles and the Labour movement. We felt this May Day bank holiday was a perfect opportunity to discuss the challenges around worker’s rights with Liberation Nuts, who supply some of our delicious snacks and are on a mission to support small-holder nut producers earn a decent wage.
ETHICAL GIFT BOX - A recent article by the organisation ‘Slow foods’ discusses the issues of the “mystification of our foods’ origins”, with most consumers completely unaware of the “dangerous conditions and poverty-line wages for workers in the production of Cashew nuts”.(1) In your opinion what can be done to tackle this problem and raise greater consumer awareness about the conditions of these workers?
At Liberation, we buy our cashew nuts (and other nuts!) all under Fairtrade conditions.
This means we know workers are paid a fair price and are treated properly. We work with Fair Trade Alliance Kerala in India to source the majority of our cashews and have a strong and lasting relationship with them meaning there are great levels of trust on both sides. We ensure that they are paid a fixed price which we try to commit to on a longer-term basis to offer more financial security to coop members and their families.
Having transparent supply chains is vital.
We know that the factory workers processing the cashews in our supply chain are given castor oil to protect them from acid burns (castor oil acts as a barrier so the skin remains unharmed from the natural acids found in the shells of cashews) and workers can also use gloves if they want. Liberation´s technical manager regularly visits all the origin sites to make sure the farms, factories and warehouses meet health and safety standards.
It is good to see that consumers are making more conscientious choices.
This was one good thing to come out of the pandemic! If you are keen to do more, choosing small-scale, local businesses is always a good option. Often, if something is very cheap – there is a reason for that...think about the breakdown of pricing...how much of it actually reaches those in the country where it was grown or made. The likely answer is ´next to nothing´.
Looking for products that have external certification is another way to go. Take the time to look into them...these days it's cool to be ethical so a lot of companies are ´greenwashing´. Fairtrade standards ensure fair prices and there is a small but growing movement of B-Corp certified products which closely monitors impact on workers, customers, suppliers, community and environment. We are also a part of the Social Enterprise UK network, a national body that supports a huge range of businesses with social and environmental missions – definitely worth taking a look at!
If you have time, look at the ethical and environmental policies and Impact reports of companies. These can often easily be found online and can give a good overview.
ETHICAL GIFT BOX - Many high street supermarkets have signed up to the The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an initiative with a mission to “free (workers) from exploitation and discrimination” (2) However, the charity Traidcraft argues that European supermarkets are contributing to poor wages by driving down prices.(3) This considered, What are your views on such initiatives and their ability to “free workers from exploitation”?
The Food Industry needs an ethical base to work from
This is quite a complex theme. Of course, the food industry needs an ethical base to work from. As it stands, ETI currently provides that base with a set of standards that can be applied globally and should be the minimum level to doing trade – when applied and rigorously audited, workers´ rights are protected. But at times this is not enough and there is a lack of visibility along the supply chain which can leave discrepancies and room for unforgivable errors.
Fair Trade, on the other hand, has a rigorous set of standards that ensures transparency, from the farm and factory at one end, all the way through to shop aisles at the other. And this transparency is the best way to monitor and prevent human rights violations. Fairtrade may have slightly higher pricing but this is because robust ethical standards are applied at every step along the chain and we know 100% that value is distributed fairly and ethical working practices are preserved.
We are not saying that ETI isn´t a step in the right direction but it is not as thorough or well-established as that of Fairtrade.
ETHICAL GIFT BOX - What are some of the biggest challenges for a company like Liberation Nuts when ensuring decent wages throughout your supply chain?
We are a very small organisation but have big aspirations and a huge network of farmers and coop members that we represent at this end of the supply chain.
We obviously want to secure the best possible business opportunities for our farmers but this can be difficult with limited resources. And more than anything, we are trying to do trade differently. The market place is overrun with a huge range of products, many of them are cheaper and more widely available. We know that the foods we sell are of a high quality and Liberation has a unique business model – smallholder farmers are majority shareholders of Liberation- but the real challenge comes in getting buyers to choose our products over the thousands of other options out there.
ETHICAL GIFT BOX - What can individuals do, beside supporting fantastic organisations like yourselves, to help in the struggle to secure better wages and working conditions for workers in Developing Countries?
We have already touched on it earlier, but being conscientious of what you are buying, where you are buying it and knowing where it is coming from is something that, as an individual, can make a difference.
When you go into a shop, choose products with the fairtrade logo, with the knowledge that they are ethically sourced, and it is being reflected in the pricing.
If your closest supermarket – or even local shop- does not sell Fairtrade items then request it. If people ask for these products, then the buyers know there is a demand for them. Keep asking until they get them!
If everybody starts to care about where their products come from then collectively, we have a much louder voice!Notes:
- Slowfood.com- Cashew nuts are a toxic industry
- Ethicaltrade.org-Ethical Trading Initiative
- Daily Mail- Hidden agony behind our craze for cashews