Women have to separate the real nut from the skin, which contains toxic oils that burn the skin and damage the eyesight. They are generally not provided with safety equipment, such as gloves, due to cost-cutting measures, which expose them to these toxins and influence their health and well-being. The pulp of the cashew nut tree fruit is incredibly toxic and corrosive. Workers, who are exclusively women, do not have adequate protective equipment to carry out the task of safely extracting the nut from the fruit.
Sometimes gloves are available for free, but other times they are too expensive for women to afford, so they run out of them. In cases where women can't afford gloves or have access to them, many put a bandage on their hands to create some kind of barrier between bare skin and burnt fruit. Goggles are rarely supplied and, therefore, many workers have damaged their eyes. Some people have commented on our recipes with doubts about the ethics of buying cashew nuts.
This is because raw cashew contains the same toxic substance as poison ivy and can cause serious health problems. There are some unscrupulous cashew nut factories where workers are exposed to toxins. The term “bloodthirsty cashew nuts” has been coined, and it's understandable that some consumers are concerned about the ethics of cashew nuts. Remember when cashew nuts broke the Internet? Twitter couldn't forget the fact that delicious nuts are grown inside cashew nuts (via Insider).
You, of course, buy them without a shell. That's part of the reason cashew nuts are so expensive. But the process of harvesting cashew nuts is not only time and labor intensive, but it is also toxic. Turns out cashew nuts are like poison ivy and poison sumac.
They can cause hyperpigmented skin lesions and toxic hepatitis (according to The Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine). So that we can eat them safely, cashew harvesters dry the nuts, remove them from their shells and steam or roast them. For much of the past, cashew nuts were not produced using previous standards for fair trade products. In fact, some cases of cashew nut production involved serious violations of human rights.
For example, more than 40,000 drug addicts in Vietnam are forced to peel cashew nuts as a form of “birth therapy”. Even when conditions are better, cashew nuts are often exported for processing, leaving communities where they grow without any of the benefits of their labor. The price of raw cashew nuts is significantly lower than the price of those that have been processed, meaning that communities of origin often made very little money with a cost-effective product. Part of the blame for these circumstances is the expectation of other countries to obtain high-quality but incredibly cheap cashew nuts.
Subcontractors don't meet the same standards, and cashew pickers employed by subcontractors work long hours without benefits and with very limited safety training. All the cashew nut processors I spoke to were heated twice; some were roasted the first time instead of steaming them. So are cashew nuts sustainable? Well, they're not the best, but they're definitely not the worst either. Once the cashew nuts have been split and removed from their shells, they are dried and cleaned to prepare them for sale.
In the past, “raw or unshelled cashew nuts” were sent from Benin to be shelled, and there community participation ceased. More than 7,000 local farmers provide cashew nuts that are processed for sale through Beyond, with more than 650 individual employees in Benin. For the time being, unfortunately, cashew nuts are contributing to this suffering and creating permanent victims. As global demand for cashew nuts increased, Beyond the Nut decided to change the industry and focus on a local fair-trade method for processing cashew nuts and selling them.
To ensure fair trade in cashew nuts, Beyond the Nut works with a network of local farmers, entrepreneurs, engineers and community members to maintain cashew nut production. As Fair Trade Canada explains, Fairtrade certification requires cashew workers to receive a fair wage. This meant that local workers could not participate in the cashew nut economy, losing jobs, potential wealth and job opportunities. These so-called raw cashew nuts are still a different product than roasted nuts, as roasted nuts are heated to much higher temperatures.