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Deniz Austin  

By Deniz Austin, Responsible Sourcing Manager at Nestlé

Life as a seasonal worker in Turkey is not easy. Every summer, thousands of migrant workers, mainly from Southeast Turkey, travel hundreds of kilometers, often with their families, to the Black Sea region to harvest hazelnuts. The work is hard and the hours long.

The hazelnut harvest lasts only 30-45 days, and many workers travel around the country throughout the year to harvest different crops. Child labor is an ever-present risk, because families have traditionally lacked safe places to leave their kids while they work.

people picking hazelnuts

Three years ago, one family invited me to visit their temporary shelter in a village. As I drew aside the curtain that acts as a door, I entered the reality that thousands here find themselves in, and many young faces – children who should have been at school.

One photo I took that day – of a year old boy and his nine-year old sister – now sits on my desk. It reminds me of who we are working for, to improve living and working conditions generally and eradicate the risk of child labor.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 73 million kids worldwide are in hazardous work that endangers their health, safety and moral development. Mainly due to household poverty, millions are stuck in this cycle, denied a brighter future.

Improved conditions

Nestlé is tackling child labor across our agricultural supply chains, and has run its Responsible Sourcing program for hazelnuts in Turkey for the last six years. We are working closely with our suppliers, the Turkish Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, local NGOs, and the Fair Labour Association (FLA) to improve working and living conditions in our hazelnut supply chain.

In 2018, we completed a pilot with the FLA, Turkish government agencies, and our two hazelnut suppliers in Turkey, Olam and Balsu. Guided by the US Department of Agriculture’s Guidelines for Eliminating Child and Forced Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains, this helped us better understand the root cause of child labor and labor rights issues in our supply chain.

summer school for kids female teacher drawing with a girl

Nestlé used these learnings to redesign our Responsible Sourcing program, and target interventions co-funded with our suppliers at hazelnut sourcing villages in the Black Sea region, and at the workers’ places of origin in Southeast Turkey.

We are training workers, producers and intermediaries in these regions. Female empowerment is one program component, and Nestlé is formalizing recruitment practices, renovating accommodation, providing water, hygiene and sanitation, supplying personal protective equipment for workers, summer schools for kids and grievance mechanisms.

Summer schools work

How are we doing? Well, in June 2019 the FLA released the first report of its kind (across all the industries FLA covers) assessing the impact of these interventions. The report (pdf, 6 Mb) concludes that our efforts targeting child labor “have proved fruitful”. The summer schools in particular have led to a fall in child labor, and a consensus is developing against it throughout the supply chain.

Many workers’ have told me that their children write diary entries like this one: "I love summer school more than my own school, because I feel that the teachers here love me. I had no dream of going to university before summer school. Now I want to study, and be a teacher. I love my books and my toys."

summer school three face painted girls sitting together and smiling

Other interventions have had some success. For example, labor intermediaries – traditionally singled out as ‘middlemen’ who unfairly withheld or stole workers’ wages – have registered with the authorities and signed employment contracts with workers.

While this progress is welcome, we realize that there is much more work to do – in a challenging environment where labor practices are traditionally informal, and workers even move between farms in the same region during the harvest.

Tackling child labor is the shared responsibility of everyone within the hazelnut supply chain: buyers like Nestlé and our peers, our suppliers, local and national government actors, NGOs and others. Together we can break the cycle of child labor. It will take time, but the only future worth working for is one where all children can fulfil their dreams.