Child labourers helping harvest Turkey’s hazelnuts -- BBC

Many children are among the migrant workers harvesting Turkey’s huge hazelnut crop, working long hours for low pay in often hazardous conditions, the BBC reported on Wednesday. 

Some 70 percent of all hazelnuts come from small farms gripping the hillsides of Turkey’s Black Sea region, including those that end up in Ferrero’s beloved Nutella spread. 

“When we say 'hazelnut', in my understanding it means misery, tough work,” Mehmet Kelekçi told the BBC as he hauled a 35-kg sack of nuts. Like Kelekçi, most of the workers are seasonal migrant Kurds from Turkey’s southeast, according to the BBC, and many are families in which the children are forced to work. 

On one mountain, a Kurdish family included a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old, who often worked 10 hours a day on steep slopes, said the BBC. The family will receive about 65 lira ($11.3) each per day, or one-eighth Turkey’s official minimum wage of about 50 lira ($8.7) per hour, according to the BBC. 

"The other day I saw the father put a sack, a very heavy sack, on the shoulders of the child. I said: 'What are you doing?' And he said: 'Let him get used to it,'" Kazım Yaman, co-owner of the orchard, told the BBC, adding that he has no option but to pay the children. 

"I am trying not to make them work, but then they say they are leaving. The mother and father want them to work - and to be paid,” he said. "This chain has to be broken."

Turkey has about 400,000 family-owned hazelnut orchards, and most owners don’t know where their nuts end up, though Ferrero buys about a third of the entire Turkish crop, said the BBC. The company aims to make its hazelnuts 100 percent traceable by next year, up from the current 39 percent, according to its latest report. 

In April, the New York Times reported that Turkey’s hazelnut farmers were taking advantage of desperate Syrian refugee labourers, paying them less than minimum wage for long hours of work. 

Enginay Akçay, an independent nut trader, told the BBC that Ferrero doesn't ask him which farms the nuts come from, or about working conditions on those farms.

"It has nothing to do with us, child labour. The control and the monitoring belongs to the state and the security forces,” said Akçay. 

Next up the chain are brokers like Osman Çakmak, who also told the BBC that Ferrero does not ask which farms the nuts are from. "It's impossible for the tons of hazelnuts to be monitored," he said.

Ferrero runs a free training program for hazelnut farmers that lays out a more sustainable model and has trained 42,000 so far, said the BBC. 

“We are doing our role to improve social practices with trainings,” Bamsi Akin, general manager of Ferrero Hazelnut Company in Turkey, told the BBC. “But is the system completely clean? I think no-one can say that at this moment.”

Turkey’s leftist trade union DİSK estimated the number of child labourers in Turkey as 2 million, while official figures put the total at 800,000. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute’s lates figures, the share of child labourers among those aged 15 to 17 increased to 21.1 percent in 2018 from 20.3 percent, though the Turkish government declared 2018 the “year of the battle against child labour”.