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World Nutella Day Brings Bittersweet Taste Amid Child Labor Concerns

Some will not be celebrating on February 5 but instead asking what the company can do to ensure ethical practices are upheld

Every 2.5 seconds a jar of Nutella is sold. A key component of the beloved chocolate spread is hazelnuts, 75 percent of which are grown in Turkey with Ferrero—the parent company of Nutella—being the largest buyer, purchasing a quarter of the country’s harvest.

A subject of controversy as of late has been Nutella’s ingredients, particularly the palm oil it uses to manufacture the product. Although it is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, critics allege its use by the company has greatly contributed to deforestation.

However, less attention has been paid to hazelnuts, which observers fear are often harvested by children working under strenuous conditions.

The United States Department of Labor includes Turkey’s hazelnuts on its 2018 list of Products Produced by Child [or Forced] labor. According to Dr. M. Murat Erdogan, Director of the Research Center on Migration and Integration at the Turkish German University, over 600,000 children are part of Turkey’s workforce. He told The Media Line that Turkey’s hazelnut industry relies heavily on child workers, many of them migrants that fled Syria’s civil war.

Entire families, including children, are forced to work due to their dire economic circumstances and the Turkish government does not have the resources to help them. Only the European Union provides financial support, but that only serves 30% of Turkey’s refugees (approximately 1.4 million people) and the allocation is fairly small—120 Turkish Lira or $25 per person per month.

In light of the problem, Turkey’s government declared 2018 as the year to fight against child labor. To that end, it created special labor units at provincial directorates and employment agencies to prevent children from working in far flung areas, often outside of the purview of central authorities.

“Child labor continues to be an important problem in our country. Working children are often unable to attend school and are deprived of the necessary equipment for their work,” Nurcan Onder, head of the General Directorate of Labor in Turkey’s Family, Labor and Social Services Ministry, told The Media Line.

The ministry is working to create an online system that will identify child workers with the aim of helping them return to school.

For its part, Nutella has introduced several initiatives to combat the use of child labor in the manufacturing of its products. According to its website, the Ferrero Farming Turkey Program was created in part to “address a number of ethical, social and environmental issues.” It employs “social officers” who instruct farmers on ethical and socially acceptable practices.

Nutella’s hazelnut exporters are also certified by UTZ, an organization that ensures companies have sourced products in an environmentally-friendly manner and comply with a proscribed set of ethical practices. Its criteria also stipulate that children must be accounted for and given proper accommodations while working.

The Media Line reached out to Ferrero and Nutella multiple times for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Dr. Erdogan of the Research Center on Migration and Integration contends that improving working conditions for children misses the point. “It is not important what kind of conditions they have because they are children and they should be in school,” he stressed.

Despite its efforts, Nutella cannot guarantee that the hazelnuts it uses are cultivated without the use of child labor because the company is unable to oversee the entirety of the production process. Nevertheless, Nutella hopes to have this capability by 2020.

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)