What is ‘cashew oil’ and why is it disfiguring Kenyan workers’ hands?

Their hands are raw, blistered and swollen. The men and women processing cashew nuts in Kilifi, Kenya use these sore hands to carefully extract the raw nut from the cashew fruit and shell. Many of them working without machines or protective equipment must avoid contact with the stinging liquid released from the shells. Photographs showing cashew workers’ hands were posted on Twitter on January 15, making waves in Kenya amid calls for reform. Local authorities have begun inspecting cashew nut facilities, even closing one down until it remedies its practices.

Cashew nuts are among the main cash crops grown in Kenya’s coastal region, particularly in the county of Kilifi. But they are also some of the most labour-intensive and hazardous nuts to produce, often causing injury to those tasked with extracting the edible nut from the toxic shell.

This is what Daniel Faraja hoped to draw attention to when he posted photographs of cashew workers’ hands on his Twitter account on January 15. The Twitter thread attracted attention, garnering nearly a million views in just two days.

‘They are forced to work and they’re not provided with gloves to protect their hands’

Daniel Faraja is an entrepreneur from Kilifi who lives near one cashew processing plant:

In the morning on Sunday, [January 15, 2022], I met one of the labourers, my neighbour. She had come to my home to fetch water, and when I went to assist her, I looked at her hands and they looked disfigured. I asked her what the problem was and she told me ‘I work at the cashew nut processing plant. My hands look like this because of the cashew nuts there’. It looked so bad and she said that she was in pain.

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