Sociocultural Context Of Cashew Workers

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The Portuguese introduced cashew trees to India in the 16th century in hopes to prevent soil erosion. (Lindberg, 2005). It was only until the 20th century the Indian market discovered its commercial value. Today, India is one of the world's largest producers and importers of raw cashew nuts. It is also the largest exporter of processed cashew nuts. The expanding global cashew markets provides an opportunity for the enhancement of small cashew farmer’s livelihood, and increases employment in the processing sector, where women workers make up the majority. (p.6).

This paper critically examines the relationship between the neoliberal supermarkets and the downstream supply chain of women cashew workers' constant struggle to survive in the cycle of poverty, at the same time being confronted by socio-cultural challenges such as gender and caste structures in India.

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With half a million cashew workers in India, women make up 90% of the total population, and are paid almost €2 a day. (Traidcraft, 2013). The average age group of the women workers are above 40 years, and most come from marginalized groups such as the schedule caste (SC) or the untouchables. (Harilal,, 2006). Women in the cashew industries were reported to be more skilled than any other supply chain workers such as, textiles, and garments. (p.25). Most often, these women workers are the main and the only breadwinner of the family. With only 10% of them engaged in an alternative source of income from farming, the remaining 90% are solely dependent on cashew factories. (p.27).

A day in the life of Lalita, a cashew worker starts at 8AM, where she walks hours under the scorching Keralan sun to the factory. (Lindberg, 2005). The task expected from cashew factories are intensive manual work. With blistering sores, and crammed necks and backs, women workers are paid €0.20 a bag. (Dutta, 2012). Saving money is a utopian dream as the women earn barely enough to sustain all the basic necessities such as food and water. (p. 901). Not only is this a constant struggle of poverty, but as well as the battle for autonomy and a dignified life which are embedded in the sociocultural context.

Like in most patriarchal society in Asia, the gendered roles for the type of work available for male and female cashew workers are rooted in the socio-cultural norms and expectations. Women worked in de-shelling, pealing and grading while the men worked in the roasting and drying processes. (Lindberg, 2005). The gendered roles in the cashew factories are assumed to protect women from heavy lifting and dirty operations. Dirty in the sense that cashews when roasted, released an acrid smoke causing headaches and nausea. (p.59). Western Feminists would argue, it diminishes women's autonomy to choose and that women are rational beings, capable of making decisions. (Norlock, 2019). However, the real reason was roasting process were paid higher, therefore, was secured for males only. (Lindberg, 2005).

Most of the workers were paid by the piece. (p.77). When the minimum wage system was introduced in 1950, women workers were paid the minimum wage regardless of the type of work they did or the caste they identified with. (89). For instance, had there been a women from the SC or upper caste in the roasting process, they would have still been paid the minimum wage.

The caste hierarchy and wage scale difference never existed among women workers. In other words, the commodification of labour disrupted the social relations of the caste system in the cashew factories, as women from the schedule caste and the upper caste worked alongside the same job for the same wage and under the same conditions. (Polanyi, 1957). (Lindberg, 2005). Interestingly, to have been leveled alongside the SC, the upper caste women found the treatment more challenging to overcome than breaking the gender ideology. (p.68).

Child labour was also present in cashew processing as it seemed like a suitable job for children. Women often secured their daughter and relatives a position at the factory. (p.29). The use of family labour was common, just like in the coffee plantations in South America. (Lyon, 2015). It saved factory owners from constantly having to look for workers. (Lindberg, 2005).

Contrarily, workers were exposed to multiple health complications. When cashew shells are cracked open, it releases caustic liquid that can cause infection and damage one's eyesight. (Traidcraft, 2013). Due to the nauseous smell of the acrid acid, workers like Lalita, have subcontracted with local cashew factories to work from home. These home-workers receive even less pay to no pay at all. (p.4).

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Sociocultural Context Of Cashew Workers. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“Sociocultural Context Of Cashew Workers.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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