The Marxist’s Guide to Peanut Butter

Worried about the ethics of palm oil? In the first of a series of ‘The Marxist’s Guide to’ Tara Brady writes about the peanut butter brands that have sound policies and go well with toast.

In recent years, there has been much chatter and news coverage given over to palm oil, that insidious goop found in 50% of supermarket products, from boot polish to lipstick. The spectacle of watching displaced, burned orangutans – who face extinction having lost 80% of their habitat in the last 20 years – has pricked the collective conscience of most right-minded consumers.

In health stores and supermarkets, the average peanut butter shopper will, accordingly, be greeted by a vast array of “No Palm Oil” assurances. Good news for our great ape chums. Not so for other closely related species.

Nuts are a nutritional marvel, packed with essential fats, vitamin E, magnesium, protein, selenium, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, fibre, and deliciousness. They are also an ethical nightmare. Californian almonds are linked with water shortages; almond cultivation consumes about 10% of the state’s water. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s hazelnuts come from Turkey where they are harvested by migrants, including children. (The biggest buyer is Ferrero, maker of Nutella.)

There is, in fact, only one product line that ensures our peanut-picking comrades abroad are getting a decent wage

Peanuts use relatively little water and are a sustainable crop. Indeed, Dr. George Washington Carver introduced peanuts to the US as a way to improve soil fertility and reduce erosion in the south-east. Thus, most brands trumpeting “No Palm Oil” can equally slap something about “sustainability” on the label.

Superficially, Manílife peanut butter, which is available online and at branches of Holland and Barrett, looks like a more ethical prospect. Their nuts are “sourced from one farm in Córdoba, Argentina” and the butter is “blended in small batches”, we are told. In common with many companies, their website features many smiling faces and no information regarding labour practices.

There is, in fact, only one product line that ensures our peanut-picking comrades abroad are getting a decent wage, and those are found at Liberation Foods.

Liberation is the UK’s first and only Fairtrade nut company, meaning the nut producers get paid at least the Fairtrade minimum price for their nuts and that they receive a Fairtrade premium for every kilogram they sell. It is 44% owned by smallholder nut producers.

The company made headlines a decade ago when it partnered with comedian and nut-fan Harry Hill to produce Harry’s Nuts, a line which allowed small farmers in Malawi, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and elsewhere to sell their crops in the UK. (Hill received no payment for his role as product ambassador.)

This Fairtrade programme, which has subsequently rebranded as Liberation nuts, has continued to benefit rural communities and, on occasion, elephants. In 2012, the Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) invested the Fairtrade premium on solar panels to power electrified fencing in order to keep trampling elephants away without injuring them. 

Liberation Crunchy Peanut Butter is available online through Traidcraft and Ethical Superstore and is very good with toast. Finding a rival brand with similarly sound policies has, thus far, yielded no results. Nuts to that.