'Join us': OFI ramps up efforts to eliminate child labour in Turkish hazelnut supply chain

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

OFI has launched the Hazelnut Trail, which sets targets for 2030. Pic: OFI
OFI has launched the Hazelnut Trail, which sets targets for 2030. Pic: OFI

Related tags Olam Food Ingredients Olam International Hazelnuts Child labour UN SDGs Turkey equality Carbon footprint cashews women empowerment

Olam Food Ingredients (OFI) is looking for partners to scale efforts in tackling poor labour conditions – including child workers and miserable wages – in hazelnut communities in Turkey.

The natural and sustainable ingredients specialist has created the Hazelnut Trail, which targets a series of commitments around education, diversity and climate action to be achieved by 2030.

The move follows the company’s launch of the Cashew Trail in June. Cashew farmers are among the poorest in the world: most being smallholders in rural Africa and Asia, who cannot always grow enough to feed their families, afford healthcare or send their children to school.

OFI – which has directly supported over 50,000 cashew farmers over the past decade – hopes to change this by encouraging others in the sector to collaborate for measurable change.

Olam Food Ingredients (OFI) is a new operating group born out of Olam. OFI offers sustainable, natural, value-added food products and ingredients so that consumers can enjoy the healthy and indulgent products they love. It consists of industry-leading businesses of cocoa, coffee, dairy, nuts, and spices.

The company has similar sustainability strategies for its Russian dairy operations, along with its involvement in the cocoa, coffee, almonds and spice sectors. OFI – a new operating group born out of Olam – has built an extensive global value chain presence that includes its own farming operations, farm-gate origination and manufacturing facilities.

All targets are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including no poverty, zero hunger, good health & wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, clean water & sanitation, decent work, reduced inequalities, responsible consumption & production, climate action and life on land.

Pressing issues facing the hazelnut sector

Hazelnuts are enjoying a resurgence of popularity as the shift towards plant-based diets continues to gather momentum. Turkey is the world’s largest hazelnut grower, providing 70% of market supply. However, the region is beset with societal challenges, like poor working conditions for thousands of seasonal migrant workers and child labour.

The Turkish Statistical Institute estimates at least 200,000 farm workers are children who follow parents onto hazelnut, apricot, cumin, grape, sugar beet, potato and pistachio farms across the region. These children are tasked with exhausting and dangerous work, such as carrying heavy loads up and down steep hillsides in hot weather.

“Ever since OFI started working in Turkey nearly a decade ago, it’s been clear that unsafe working conditions and child labour are among the most pressing issues facing the sector,”​ said Ashok Krishen, CEO of OFI’s nuts platform.

“In this time, OFI, together with our customers and partners, including the Fair Labour Association, International Labor Organization and Save the Children, has supported over 20,000 hazelnut farmers and workers with agronomy, labour rights, and community services.”

In 2018, the company set a benchmark for Turkey’s agricultural sector – and specifically the hazelnut segment – by introducing labour contracts for seasonal migrant workers, with minimum wage guarantees and legal working hours.

“Our closeness to farmers is key to creating products with the strong provenance and sustainability impact that consumers crave,”​ added Krishen.

“Our new strategy now challenges us to do more. And we need new partners to help us solve challenges and unleash more value for the people and communities behind our hazelnuts.”

Open invitation

OFI has issued a call out for customers, NGOs and government bodies to engage with it on a range of activities to achieve its vision of a safe and resilient hazelnut supply chain.

This can be achieved:

  • By directly contributing to existing or new initiatives, based on premiums or a one-off payment.
  • As a strategic or implementation partner, to help with volunteering personal time, technical expertise or resources for new and exciting initiatives on the ground.
  • Through AtSource programmes, which provide customers with engagement options tailored to individual sustainability ambitions. These community projects can range from a summer school for children of migrant workers to building a school library and sponsoring health visits for female workers.
Hazelnut Trail

By 2030, the Hazelnut Trail pledges to have tackled:

  • 100% child labour monitoring and remediation in managed programmes
  • 100% of farmers trained on gender equality and labour rights
  • 50,000 farmers trained on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to improve their carbon footprint
  • Soil analysis conducted for 10,000 farmers to optimize fertilizer use
  • 80% of OF’s hazelnut volumes – direct and indirect – being traceable

Window into supply chain challenges

Burcu Turkay, global sustainability manager of OFI’s nuts platform, has been charged to oversee the Hazelnut Trail.

“By setting targets and sharing programme and footprinting data via our insights platform AtSource, we can give our partners a window into supply chain challenges and reassure customers that their pralines, spreads, pastes, milks and other hazelnut products not only taste great, but are also helping to support rural communities,”​ said Turkay.

AtSource works by tracking 100+ economic, social and environmental metrics from the farms right through logistics and processing to provide the company with the info needed to do more for the people and the landscape its hazelnuts come from.

A spokesperson from the Fair Labor Association, which has audited OFI’s sustainability programmes since 2013, added, “OFI has proven to be a reliable partner in collaborations over the past decade, supporting efforts to increase understanding of working conditions on hazelnut farms in Turkey.

“The business’s commitment to change is clear. OFI’s education, engagement, training and community investment have resulted in measurable improvements that have reduced child labour and improved worker recruitment and employment practices.”

Headquartered and listed in Singapore, Olam supplies food, ingredients, feed and fibre to 17,300 customers worldwide. Its value chain spans over 60 countries and includes farming, processing and distribution operations, as well as a sourcing network of an estimated five million farmers.

Since June 2020, Olam has been included in the FTSE4Good Index Series, a global sustainable investment index series that identifies companies that demonstrate strong Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices and is used by a variety of market participants to create and assess responsible investment funds.

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