Turkey: Nestle & Ferrero face allegations of labour rights abuses of Syrian refugee hazelnut farmers

On the 28th of April 2019, the New York Times published a report by David Segal investigating the working conditions of Syrian refugees who perform backbreaking labor on the farms that produce 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts for confectionery companies like Nestle, Godiva, and Ferrero. The investigation highlights several human rights concerns for refugees, displaced by the Syrian war in the 600,000 hazelnut farms scattered throughout Turkey. 

The article suggests that while nearly all farms in Turkey pay minimum wage (2,020 lira or $339 USD per month), this remains far from the living wage. 

The article illustrates that workers have little legal recourse or protections. As such, Turkey’s Labor Code does not apply to agricultural businesses with fewer than 50 employees, so much of the policing of this crop falls to confectionery companies.” And unchecked multibillion-dollar companies, as we all know, aren’t known for their benevolent oversight and fair treatment of workers.

Child labor was also recognized as a prevalent issue in the hazelnut farms of Turkey. 

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre invited Nestle and Ulker to respond. Nestle sent a response, which is available below. Ulker did not. Ferrero responded in the article below.

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Company response
20 May 2019

Nestle responds to allegations of refugee labour abuse on Turkish hazelnut farms

Author: Yann Wiss, Nestle

 We stand by the position that our main partner – the Fair Labor Association (FLA) – released last week on this article: http://www.fairlabor.org/blog/entry/fla-comment-april-29-article-new-york-times 

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Author: Olivier Petitjean, Observatoire des multinationales (France)

« En Turquie, des réfugiés syriens exploités cueillent des noisettes pour Nestlé et Ferrero », 14 mai 2019 

…Une enquête du New York Times révèle l’exploitation croissante des réfugiés syriens en Turquie, dans les fermes qui approvisionnent Ferrero, le fabricant du Nutella, mais aussi Nestlé…

…Ferrero absorberait à lui seul le tiers des noisettes turques, dans des conditions économiques qui ont favorisé le recours au travail bon marché - notamment, de plus en plus, celui de réfugiés syriens.

…Aujourd’hui, un nombre croissant des saisonniers employés comme cueilleurs de noisettes sont des réfugiés syriens, une population particulièrement vulnérable. Peu d’entre eux ont des permis de travail, de sorte qu’ils sont dépourvus de protection juridique.

Le Code du travail turc ne s’applique pas aux entreprises agricoles de moins de 50 employés, et la régulation de cette filière revient donc de fait aux entreprises agroalimentaires donneuses d’ordre. Ferrero déclare superviser un effort global pour interdire le travail des enfants et fixer des standards minimaux de rémunération et de sûreté…

Mais superviser de manière exhaustive les exploitations de noisettes en Turquie est une entreprise d’une difficulté exceptionnelle, parce qu’elles sont très nombreuses et très indépendantes. Le salaire minimum, payé par la plupart des agriculteurs, ne suffit pas à maintenir une famille au-dessus du seuil de pauvreté…

Les propriétaires de fermes sont eux-mêmes économiquement à la merci des donneurs d’ordre…

[Selon une enquête réalisée en 2017 par la Fair Labor Association sur la chaîne d’approvisionnement en noisettes de Nestlé] …72% des travailleurs déclaraient gagner à peine de quoi vivre, 99% travailler 7 jours par semaine, et la situation en termes de travail des enfants avait « détériorié durant l’année écoulée » en raison de la guerre en Syrie.

Read the full post here

Company non-response
20 May 2019

Ulker did not respond

30 April 2019

Turkey: Refugee Labor Abuses on Hazelnut Farms Used by Nestle, Nutella

Author: David Segal, New York Times

 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.

About 70 percent of all hazelnuts come from Turkey, a bounty produced by some 600,000 tiny farms scattered throughout the verdant landscape that stretches along the country’s northern coast. Much of the harvest winds up in beloved confections like Nutella spread made by Ferrero, candy bars made by Nestlé and Godiva's chocolates made by a Turkish company, Yildiz.

Yet, few consumers know that behind each of these treats is a crop that has long been notorious for its hazards and hardships, as well as the prevalence of child labor, a scourge the government has been trying to combat for years.

(...) Giovanni Ferrero rarely grants interviews or allows media visits to the company’s headquarters in Alba, Italy. A spokeswoman answered questions by email, sending a list of organizations that Ferrero has teamed with to promote what it calls the Ferrero Farming Values program. “Ferrero is dedicated to providing its people with safe and decent working conditions,” she wrote in an email, “and we request that our independent farmers do the same.”  More than 72 percent of workers reported that they had barely enough money to get by. Ninety-nine percent said they worked seven days a week. Child labor issues, the company stated, have “deteriorated in the last year” because of the war in Syria. Nestlé declined to comment for this article.

Read the full post here