I’ve heard from various sources that workers processing cashew nuts suffer from serious health issues. I was curious to see what one can understand by reading online sources.
In 2015, Telegraph reports on “Blood cashews: the toxic truth about your favourite nut”.
"The nuts – 60 per cent of which are processed in India – are exceptionally hard to extract. A cashew has two layers of hard shell between which are caustic substances – cardol and anacardic acid – which can cause vicious burns.
Many of the women who work in the cashew industry have permanent damage to their hands from this corrosive liquid, because factories do not routinely provide gloves."
In 2017, Wall Street Journal reports that “India’s ‘Cashew Capital’ Loses Ground in Global Race”.
"Once the world's cashew capital, Kollam, India, has faltered in the face of competition from Vietnam as the city's labor-intensive industry has failed to adopt more-efficient technology."
The report shows manual labor in India. Many employees work with their bare, burned hands. In contrast, Vietnamese factory workers wear protective gears. Eliminating human labor scaled up production too: from 10 kg to about 4-5 tons of raw cashew is processed daily with machines. Vietnam accounts for about 70% of global exports.
Dark side of the Moon. A joint NGO report discloses “Torture in Vietnam 2018”. Apparently modern machinery isn’t used everywhere.
"Manual labor is obligatory for convicted prisoners in Vietnam […] Some of the job assignments are in hazardous industries, such as cashew nut processing […] Prisoners are required to crack open, clean and shell cashews by hand. Those who don’t meet production quotas, or who break or blemish nuts while prying open the shells, are beaten."
In 2019, France 24 reports that “Painful working conditions behind popular snack” still exists in India.
"The perfect snack. Cashew nuts are in high demand, but at the other side of the world, it has become a nightmare for thousands of women.”
The video shows manual labor factories. All workers are women. Their hands are significantly damaged by the toxic cashew’s shell oil.
In a parallel universe, a short US documentary presents “The Story of the Cashew”. Publishing date is unclear.
"Most people here in the United States do not know very much about cashews because they are not grown in North America. This video shares information on where cashews come from and shows how cashews are grown and prepared for sale.”
The film presents Asian factory workers in protective gears processing cashew nuts. All clean and tidy. The health risks of the job are never mentioned.
Processing cashews is dangerous for human health, and may lead to permanent damages without sufficient protection. Only purchase fair trade products. Whenever possible, consume nuts local to your region.