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Italian company Ferrero accused of exploiting hazelnut pickers

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By Josephine Joly  with AFP
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This photo taken on January 30, 2018 in Saint-Gregoire, near Rennes, northwest France, shows containers of Nutella.
This photo taken on January 30, 2018 in Saint-Gregoire, near Rennes, northwest France, shows containers of Nutella.   -   Copyright  DAMIEN MEYER / AFP

Turkish hazelnut producers, who account for 70% of the world's hazelnut production, are denouncing the poor working conditions of Italy's Ferrero.

Kneeling from dawn till dusk, the Turkish farmers picking most of the hazelnuts going into Nutella spreads complain of exploitation and meagre pay, setting up a clash over labour rights.

They are paid $14 (€12) a day for 12 hours of work, which is less than the minimum wage that Turkey requires for a 45-hour week.

The little heart-shaped nuts making Nutella such a guilty pleasure are a cherished commodity in Turkey, which accounts for 82% of global exports.

But this love is not shared by Bahri Koyu, a 48-year-old seasonal worker from Turkey.

"The owners and producers pay us insufficient wages because the price we get for a kilo of hazelnuts is low. This price benefits neither us nor the producers. The only ones who benefit are the big companies," Koyu said.

The world-famous spread is made by Italy's Ferrero confectionery, Turkey's top hazelnut purchaser, who also produces Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Kinder chocolate eggs.

Ferrero has six facilities and employs more than 1,000 people in Turkey, where it has been sourcing hazelnuts for the past 35 years. In 2014, it acquired Turkey's Oltan Group, a local market leader that procures, processes, and sells nuts.

"They have a monopoly, they have a free hand," said Aydin Simsek, 43, a local producer.

"You see our conditions, how hard we work," he added, explaining that the price he gets for a kilogramme of hazelnuts has dropped to 22.5 liras (€2). "This year, I will not sell my hazelnuts to Ferrero."

A Ferrero spokesperson said that the group does not directly "own or manage farms in Turkey" and that it procures hazelnuts it needs according to free-market rules.

But Omer Demir, President of the Istanbul Chambers of Agriculture said: "they buy hazelnuts for 22 to 23 liras a kilo and sell them for 23 dollars. How come these men do whatever they want when we account for 70% of production? They should not be allowed to."

Demir has called on Turkey's competition authority to intervene. "Otherwise, they will control everything everywhere and we will come to a point where we cannot sell our product to anyone else but them."

Hazelnut producers feel like they have no choice and are scared of speaking out against the Italian giant.

"They fear that if they speak out, they will no longer be able to sell their hazelnuts," said Sener Bayraktar, who heads Akyazi's chamber of agriculture.

Bayraktar wants the Turkish Grain Board – a state regulator that oversees pricing, storage, and payments – to raise its quotas so that producers can sell more nuts, diversifying their client base.

The Turkish government has said it is ready to help, raising the hopes of the producers.