If you’re a vegan, you probably know how great cashews are. They make great cheese, ice cream, and all other deliciously creamy plant-based goodies. However, there are several ethical issues related to the cashew industry. While we’re not here to blame you for consuming cashews, we think it’s important to know how these nuts are made and the sacrifices people make for them.
Harmful to workers
The pulp of the cashew net is incredibly poisonous and corrosive. The all-female workers are not given proper protective equipment to do the job of safely extracting the nut from the fruit. Sometimes gloves are available free of charge, sometimes they are simply too expensive for women to do without. In cases where women cannot afford or have access to gloves, many join their hands together to create some sort of barrier between their bare skin and burning fruits. Safety glasses are almost never delivered and as a result, many workers have damaged their eyes.
That physical effort for processing cashew nuts cause permanent harm to workers in the industry. It was observed that the women had problems with their locomotor and respiratory systems as well as painful skin diseases. Of a large group of cashew workers, 86.6% were burned at least once. Many also had black or very dark spots on their palms and fingers.
Part of the reason for these circumstances is the expectation of other countries for high-quality, yet incredibly cheap cashew nuts. This is not dissimilar to what happens in sweatshops. Factories compete for large customers and lower the price of their products at the expense of their workers.
Sunita in India
In 2013, Indian cashew workers were making 30 pence (about 42 cents) a day for a job that destroys their hands and eyes. The guard tells us about an Indian woman named Sunita who works in a cashew production factory. She has chronic back, joint and shoulder pain from bending over all day. There is no other way for them to get the job done. She also talks about her meager pay and how it’s incredibly difficult to save money because she makes so little.
When people in poverty, especially women, have no savings, it becomes incredibly difficult to get out of an unhealthy or dangerous situation. You are essentially stuck.
Cashew nuts are often grown in Africa, however Vietnam is the largest cashew processing center in the world. There is a lack of understanding of child labor laws, so children often work on the farms. Vietnam also grows some cashew nuts, but the use of pesticides is “negligent” and the groundwater is polluted, making the water undrinkable.
Unions were created by management, but they were not used to raise workers’ concerns. The young and hurtful voices of those responsible who pull the nuts from poisonous fruits remain largely unheard.
As in the clothing industry, women are mostly victims of the cashew industry. Therefore, the industry is not just an ethical issue, but a feminist issue. Women deserve fair pay, especially when they forego their physical wellbeing. In the documentary True Cost, women who work in sweatshops talk about leaving their children with the family so they can work in factories all day. It is likely that women who work in the cashew industry will be forced into similar circumstances.
The cashew growing industry faces a number of problems, including the decline in agrobiodiversity and traditional farming practices. Efforts are being made, however, to form joint initiatives that will work towards creating a more sustainable cashew industry. A large part of this effort involves building trust and long-term relationships between farmers and other members of the supply chain.
They also have a large water footprint and a modern carbon footprint. However, in terms of how damaging the cultivation is to the surrounding ecosystems, its impact is relatively minor. So are cashews sustainable? Well, they’re not the best, but they’re definitely not the worst either.
Try your best
While it can be difficult as a vegan to completely avoid cashews, we strongly recommend that you eat less of them. Have fun discovering almond cheese or ice cream. It’s fun to be creative! Perhaps you could start by stopping buying whole cashews and indulging in a pre-made treat every now and then.
Being vegan doesn’t mean being perfect, it’s about doing your best not to support global suffering, whether it’s a person or an animal. At the moment, unfortunately, cashews add to this ailment and create permanent victims.
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