The shocking truth behind Hazelnut Farming and why we use Piedmont Hazelnuts

Societa Agricola Pedemontis

We now source all our Hazelnuts from the Piedmont region of Italy as Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) Piedmont Hazelnuts. But this wasn’t always the case.

Seventy percent of the world’s hazelnuts come from Turkey. Though a  tiny company we do use a relatively large amount of hazelnuts in our pralines and Chocolate Salami. So when we came across a New York Times investigation exposing shocking labour practices and exploitation of Syrian refugees and their children in the Turkish hazelnut industry we started to pull at the strings of our own hazelnut supply chain. Though we couldn’t find evidence that our own hazelnuts were farmed in this way, we equally couldn’t find any real proof that they weren’t. 

More worryingly every hazelnut specification we could find or trace from reputable ingredients suppliers would provide pages of data on their product’s chemical composition, but in most cases only a one line identification of the country of origin, and in many cases no country of origin identification (which we believe is illegal under European law). So it was clearly time to change.

So if you don’t want to read further we now directly source all our hazelnuts used in pralines, chocolate salami and other hazelnut chocolates directly from a small family run farm in the Piedmont region of Italy. The hazelnuts are certified Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) and the region is known to produce the finest hazelnuts in the world.

 

So what evidence did we find that so shocked us to make this change?

The New York magazine Grub Street provides a concise summary of the New York Times investigation into the Turkish Hazelnut industry.

This is not a revelation about a few people on a small number of farms. If that were the case then the best way to deal with it would be to help those farmers help themselves as we have in Madagascar with Raisetrade.

This is 70% of the world’s hazelnut crop who’s supply chain is exploited and obfuscated by some of Europe’s largest, wealthiest and most successful confectionery companies. We won’t name those companies, please read the New York Times and Grub Street articles to identify them – though i’m sure you could guess. But we will say that we too have not been able to track our original hazelnut sources to individual farms, the trail goes blank, it’s blocked; and that indicated to us that we needed to change our sourcing.

The abuse in the supply chain has entangled Syrian refugees, who have fled a humanitarian crisis only to find their vulnerability exploited for some nuts.

“In six years of monitoring, we have never found a single hazelnut farm in Turkey in which all decent work principle standards are met,” said Richa Mittal, the director of innovation and research for the Fair Labor Association, which has done fieldwork on Turkey’s hazelnut crop. “Across the board. Not one.”

So independent auditors have not been able to identify a single farm that employs fair labour standards.

“Like thousands of other Syrian refugees, Shakar Rudani worked last summer in Turkey’s Black Sea region, home to the largest concentration of hazelnut farms in the world. He arrived in August, expecting that he and his six sons, ages 18 to 24, would earn the equivalent of a few thousand dollars. He left in late September with little more than a firm resolution: to never return again.
The work was arduous and risky. Because the terrain is filled with steep inclines, his sons spent much of their time attached by ropes to rocks, a precaution against a potentially fatal fall. Worse, the pay was $10 a day, half the rate promised by the middleman who had pitched him the job.
“We made just enough to cover the cost of getting there and getting back,” said Mr. Rudani, a sun-baked 57-year-old who lives in a Turkish village on the Syrian border. “Plus our living expenses. We returned with nothing.” – New York Times

Child Labour is often involved

Almost all Turkey’s hazelnut farms pay minimum wage, which is below the county’s poverty line. A pittance of a pay from which the middlemen take at least 10%. Syrian refugees told the New York Times that it leaves them with no choice but to have their children work with them.

Though the Turkish government tries to combat child labour most farms have less than 50 employees and aren’t held accountable to the county’s child labour laws. So it’s left to the big companies to deal with the issues.

The saddest thing about this. Whilst filling out our SALSA supplier accreditation , which would essentially allow us to sell to supermarkets if we were in that market, I realised that it would be far easier for us to approve the large ingredients supplier. They had all the information – the last microgram of minerals that might exist in the hazelnut over three detailed pages. An auditor’s dream. But could they tell me whether a child had picked it tied to a rock to avoid falling off a cliff to their death? – no.

And that is why our food supply chain worldwide is completely messed up.

So if you walk into a supermarket or luxury store and see a shiny hazelnut based product, or your favourite breakfast chocolate hazelnut spread, there’s  a reason that it’s so cheap. Yes some of it might be down to mechanisation, but sadly mostly it’s down to exploitation and obfuscation, with billionaires at the top of the heap who say they have nothing to do with hazelnut farming – how can it be their problem?

So that is why we’ve changed our Hazelnut sourcing to a small Piedmont farm employing a direct trading model with PGI denomination Hazelnuts – recognised as the finest in the world. The farm has diversified into bee keeping and also produces a small amount of honey. They use organic pest control methods and actively campaign against glysophate. Most importantly they are completely transparent about every stage of their process.

 

At present we have used our first  test order to create our latest batch of Chocolate Salami and test batches of our famous Sea Salt Pralines and The Bish. The taste is so wonderful that we are now organising our first larger direct trade with the farm.

  1. New York Times Investigation Syrian Refugees on Turkish Hazelnut Farms
  2. Grub Street – Syrian Refugees on Turkish Hazelnut Farms