The UTZ hazelnut program is growing quickly. The independent sustainability program has now certified more than 6,800 hazelnut farmers (2018) and 80% of the exporters in the hazelnut sector in Turkey and is now open to other countries. Farmers are trained to improve conditions for workers, to prevent child labor, and to apply good agricultural practices that can increase productivity and improve quality. 

Making the whole hazelnut sector more sustainable, however, is a step-by-step journey.  Tackling issues like child labor, living conditions for workers and productivity requires cooperation amongst farmers, traders, industry, as well as other actors like NGOs, government and third parties. Together with Leonie Haakshorst, Sector Lead Hazelnut & Coconut, we take a closer look at the social issues and how we can drive improvement.

What’s the problem?

Next to productivity issues, one of the main challenges in the hazelnut sector in Turkey is the reliance on temporary migrant workers who are hired for the harvest each summer. There are issues with informal hiring practices, poor housing conditions and risks on child labor.

Driving improvement in working conditions

“In every country and in every sector where we work, the UTZ standard sets out requirements for better conditions for workers”, Leonie explains. “For hazelnuts we set out some additional requirements focused on the specific context in Turkey.”

“Many of the workers live in accommodation settlements provided by the government or the International Labor Organization. Our standard requires the farmer groups to reach out to relevant authorities to ensure that these workers have access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and so on. When group members provide housing to workers themselves, they must provide adequate living conditions.”

As always in the UTZ program, at least the minimum wage must be paid. For the hazelnut harvest, each year the government sets a minimum daily wage that is announced just before the harvest starts. Farmers have to keep records related to the payment of these wages. Leonie: “It is common for hazelnut workers to find employment through labor brokers, so we say that any broker’s commission must be paid directly by the farmer, not the worker.”

Special attention is required for record keeping related to the workers. UTZ farmers register for instance if they are accompanied by children.

Focus on child labor

The annual UTZ audits check for any evidence of child labor on the farms, but this is just one part of our approach to tackling child labor. What is even more important is that the systems are in place to prevent it.

“We have made some specific requirements aimed at tackling child labor in the hazelnut sector, which usually affects the children of migrant workers who travel as a family”, says Leonie. “For example, farmers must keep records of whether their workers have children traveling with them, and they must ensure appropriate child care facilities are available so that children have a safe place to go while their parents work.“

Partnerships for change

Sector change depends on the commitment of the whole supply chain, from farmers to traders and all the way through to supermarkets. The UTZ hazelnut certification brings together this whole supply chain, as well as communities, government and NGOs, in a journey towards a more sustainable hazelnut sector.

“For example, in 2017 we worked with the Fair Labor Association in Istanbul to host a round table on the issues of child labor within the hazelnut sector. There’s still a long way to go but we are committed to working with stakeholders from across the sector to get us there”, concludes Leonie.

Get involved and join us on our journey towards a more sustainable hazelnut sector.