Cashew nuts; a labour-intensive delicacy

We’ve been a fan of cashew nuts for years. We’ve always bought them organic and, if possible, fair trade. After all, the fair trade variant hasn’t always been available. In the build-up to the World Fair Trade Day (May 9) we decided to check whether it is necessary to always buy the fair trade version.

Almost everyone has a favourite kind of nut. They are delicious and healthy, and we are relatively spoiled here in Belgium: our forests are full of hazels, walnut trees and chestnut trees. Although they grow quite well here, most of the nuts that you find in our supermarkets aren’t from Belgium. For example, the walnuts you find in stores mainly come from France, Romania, and even Australia and the United States.

One of the most popular nuts in the world is the cashew nut. It has a mild flavour, is high in protein and contains relatively few fats. It should come as no surprise that it invariably appears in every top 5 of healthiest nuts. Cashew nuts are ideal to eat raw or roasted, or to incorporate in dishes. They can even be used to give a plant-based meal a cheesy flavour.


We’ve been a fan of these nuts for years. We’ve always bought them organic and, if possible, fair trade. After all, the fair trade variant hasn't always been available. Our attitude changed when we saw this video. Journalists of France 24 followed the route cashew nuts travel before they end up in our stores. A real eye opener.



More than 60% of the cashew nuts consumed worldwide are processed in India. It is a very important industry for the country. Nuts – cashews, but also coconuts and Brazil nuts – are the second most important agricultural product for export, after rice. In 2017, Belgium and Luxemburg together imported more than 34 million dollars worth of nuts from India.

The cashew nut is actually the seed of the cashew fruit that grows on the so-called cashew apples. Intensive processing is required to obtain the nut as we know it. The nuts must be peeled and roasted, among other things. It is necessary to roast them in order to remove a toxic oil.

During the peeling process, an acid is released that burns the skin. Still, peeling is often done by hand and/or in factories where basic protective equipment, such as gloves, is not available. The labour-intensive peeling of nuts is a job that employs a huge amount of people. Almost 500 000 people in India – almost exclusively women – work in the cashew nut industry.

Human rights organizations denounce the poor working conditions in which these labourers are forced to work. They mention the extremely low wages (~2,5 euros a day), with no employment agreements, which means no vacations or pensions. The NGO Anti Slavery even speaks of child slavery in the cashew industry in Guinea and in 2015, the English newspaper The Telegraph reported on labour camps in Vietnam where drug addicts were forced to peel cashew nuts. Precisely for this reason, Time Magazine speaks of ‘blood cashews’.

A welcome counterreaction


Fortunately, a counterreaction is in process. The number of fair trade nuts is growing each year. In 2017, 3% of all cashew nuts were Fairtrade certified. Moreover, the Netherlands is the second largest importer of Fairtrade nuts in the world. And even in Belgium it has become easier to find the fair trade version of this delicacy, but unfortunately it is not yet available in every store.

You can already find the Fairtrade cashew nuts at the Oxfam-Worldshops and in some of our our Fairtrade hotspots.

Foto's: Sarah Van Looy

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