Friday, December 14, 2012

Cashew Factory Part 2

             Boy  I wish I had grown up speaking Creole.  So many important conversations are being had, I kind of know what is being said, and I can’t contribute!
             Today was another day at the Cashew factory.
             My step-dad spent the morning talking to workers and supervisors. After lots of conversation a meeting was held with select workers to go over some suggestions to improve working conditions and efficiency of the factory. These suggestions include getting rid of the lunch and transportation that the company provides for their workers and using that money instead to pay higher wages. The women are working next to the cashew roaster, which is fueled by a fire and they are in direct line of the smoke. Another suggestion was to rearrange some things to move them away from the smoke.  From what I could understand, there were some positive, and in my opinion, questionable suggestions that were made. What was most interesting, however, was watching the gender dynamics in the discussion and decision making process.
            A woman owns the entire operation. She has two men working for her as managers and then there are the workers.  During the meeting it almost came down to men vs. women workers. The women, while being offered a higher salary, were also going to have to take on bigger burden. There was no discussion about the high rates men the men are getting paid. A big part of the ability of the women to do their job is depended on the quality and quantity of cashews that the men process. While the women continually brought up this issue, it did not get addressed. The issues that was addressed was that the women were working too slow, completely ignoring the fact that the women were providing a reason to why they were working so slow.
            Anyways, by the end of the discussion one thing became clear: business is business and social rights are for activists.  As soon as you care about the well being of the workers you immediately put your business in an unprofitable position. At least that’s how it seems for this business. How could you switch the business model so that insuring the needs of your workers are being met is good for business and not the opposite?
            I mention all of this because of what we learned about the company today.  The men are making 1,000-5,000 FC a day, while the women are making 200-600 FC a day. To put this in US dollars, 1,000 FC equals 2 dollars (I’ll let you do the rest of the math). One type of work is done exclusively by men and I would absolutely say is more dangerous. The machine they use could easily chop off a finger if you weren't paying attention and I've already mentioned the cashew shells being toxic. While the women’s work doesn't include these physical dangers, it requires more attention and finesse.  Because it requires more attention, it takes them longer to do the job, and because it takes them longer, they earn less on top of already being paid less then the men.
            What drives me crazy about this is that there is academia to supports the fact that if you give money to the male head of a household, he will give some to the family and spend the rest on himself, or even keep it all to himself. If the woman receives the income, the money more often then anything else will go to supporting the family. This is by no means the case in every situation, but this is the trend. It was hard to see a 17-year-old boy making 3 time more money then his female counterpart, twice his age, who surely has a family.  This is just one example of a small company that’s actually owned by a woman. I can only image what other pay rates are at other places.
            This has been such an insight to the reality of the food-processing world. This is just cashews in one country. What does food-processing look like in other developing countries, with other food products? It made me think a lot about the chocolate industry in the Ivory Coast (If you don’t know, please look into it!). We really need to learn where our food products are coming from. We can never know whose lives are being affected by what we buy, and how, unless we put in a little effort to learn about it.
            After we spent some time at the factory, Francesca came by and took us to another nearby factory. This other factory is about 10 times bigger and it employs 200+ people.  Where Francesca’s factory has 8 machines this factory has 40. This factory has some direct ties with a Turkish company. It is mechanized, fueled by burning cashew shells, and has electric driers. In this factory you start with the raw shelled nut and you end with a polished, thoroughly inspected, and professionally packaged 5kilo bag of nuts that are ready for export.  It was impressive to say the least. 
            Francisca eventually wants to get her operation on as large a scale as this place. The problem is that she is stuck in a contract with a cashew supplier that only gives her 50,000fc more per bag of cashews once they’ve been processed. Essentially she is making a 100 dollar profit for every 20 kilo of cashews. That is neither profitable nor sustainable in business terms.  As of right now that is the biggest obstacle for generating any profit.
            Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the factory. I have to remind myself not to leave the house without my camera! Tomorrow I’m off to the islands for a week!

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