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Your Favorite Hazelnut Products Might Come From Syrian Refugee Child Labor

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Although the United Nations calls on countries to help refugees transition to safe and prosperous lives, Syrian refugees in Turkey often find themselves in precarious, exploitative situations. You can help up take action on this issue here.

If you’ve ever had Nutella or a Ferrero Rocher chocolate, there’s a good chance that the essential ingredient — hazelnut — came from Turkey, where more than 70% of the world’s hazelnuts are cultivated.

And there’s also a good chance that those hazelnuts were harvested through extreme exploitation.

Turkey’s hazelnut farms, concentrated in the country’s south, are rife with abuses ranging from child labor, wage theft, dangerous conditions, unpaid overtime, and more, according to the Fair Labor Association (FLA).  

While these abuses aren’t officially sanctioned by the world’s major buyers of hazelnut —  Nestlé, Ferrero Rocher, and Yildiz (maker of Godiva) — FLA asserts that these companies have done little if anything to promote fair working conditions throughout the farms, even though they hold enormous leverage over them.

“Ferrero is dedicated to providing its people with safe and decent working conditions, and we request that our independent farmers do the same,” a spokeswoman told the New York Times in an email.

Take Action: End Modern Slavery: Ask World Leaders to Ratify the Forced Labour Protocol

In recent years, the industry’s exploitative tendencies have gone into hyperdrive because of an influx of vulnerable Syrian refugees, according to the Times.  

Since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, around 3.4 million refugees fled over the northern border into Turkey. While these families have escaped the onslaught of bombs and bullets, and a gutted economy, life in Turkey features its own set of challenges.

Many Syrian refugees in Turkey came to the country with few possessions, wealth, and connections. As a result, they were essentially starting from zero in a foreign country.

To make matters worse, these refugees are categorized as “people under temporary protection,” a status that makes them essentially second-class citizens, with few of the legal rights guaranteed regular citizens.

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Refugees are rarely able to obtain work permits, meaning they often have to work off-the-books in unregulated industries, where they make meager wages, endure abuse, and have no recourse for complaint.

Available wages are often so low that families depend on their children working, because multiple combined wages are the only way to afford rent and food.

Over the past few years, thousands of Syrians, adults and children, have traveled to the hazelnut farms for seasonal work after being promised decent wages by middlemen. The majority of hazelnut harvesters are still Turkish citizens, but working conditions are often poor across the board.

Upon arrival, the work proves to be grueling, dangerous, and criminally underpaid. Often working 12 hour shifts, seven days a week, the refugees are paid around $10 a day, the Times reports.

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The farms are sometimes scattered across steep hillsides where a false step can send a person tumbling to a severe injury or even death.

Abusive practices can be found far beyond the country’s hazelnut farms. Turkey’s clothing factories have been found to rely on child refugee laborers. Syrian women, meanwhile, face widespread sexual harassment while working domestic jobs, and are sometimes forced into prostitution.

The hazelnut farms, however, are a jarring illustration of how exploitation depends on a global web of complicity.

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No individual consumer is to blame, of course, but the companies that profit off this state of affairs could insist on stronger labor protections that would be enacted immediately, the Fair Labor Association argues.  

The organization suggests these companies could be conducting rigorous labor audits of the 600,000 or so hazelnut farms in Turkey, and then demanding that farmers meet a new, stringent set of standards or they’ll stop doing business with them.

If that means that the price of hazelnut goes up, advocates argue it’s a small price to pay for ensuring fair working conditions.