"Gross exploitation of migrant workers in Italian tomato sector"

Italian tomatoes account for 60 per cent of processed tomatoes sold in the UK. Now, a new Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) report, Counteracting exploitation of migrant workers in Italian tomato production reveals massive exploitation of a growing migrant work force in Italy’s agricultural sector and in tomato production in particular.



Nick Kightley, ETI’s food and farming adviser said exploitation is inextricably linked to so called Caporali. These are the illegal gangmasters who hire migrant workers who pick and pack Italy’s tomatoes – even though Italy banned the Caporalato system in 2011 following revelations of appalling working conditions and links to organised crime.

“Foreign labor is regarded as crucial to enable Italian agriculture to compete on global markets. Yet in a race to make the biggest possible profit, employment laws are being routinely ignored,” said Nick Kightley.

“Reliance on migrant workers, and the employment illegalities inherent within the tomato sector, has massive knock-on implications for those UK retailers that want to ensure their supply chains are abuse free.”

While illegality affects EU and non-EU workers alike, non-EU workers are particularly vulnerable and disproportionately affected because of their migration status, typically working very long hours with wages 40 per cent lower than legal minimum thresholds. And numbers are rising although estimates of those at risk vary:
  • Officially, the number of foreign agricultural workers in Italy is estimated to be 116,000.
  • In contrast the respected Italian Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) suggests the figure is 500,000, including regular and irregular migrants.
  • In 2014, research institute Osservatorio Placido Rizzotto estimated that 400,000 agricultural workers, of whom 80 per cent were migrants, were at risk of exploitation by Caporali and that in excess of 100,000 illegally employed non-EU migrant workers experienced severe exploitation including appalling living conditions.
Nick Kightley said: “Tomatoes are the crown jewels of Italian agriculture. They are Italy’s major agricultural export and Italy is the world’s third largest producer of processed tomatoes.

“UK retailers typically enter the Italian supply chain at processor level and exploitation normally happens two tiers below that at the farm gate. It is also a hidden problem because of the illegalities surrounding Caporali and the employment of migrant workers. Despite this, UK companies have power and influence, and can and should act.”

Specifically, the ETI is advising retailers to urgently map their supply chains, prioritizing those areas most at risk of exploiting migrant workers and to include assessment of wages paid and hours worked. ETI says that even though exploitation starts at the farm gate, retailers will need to work at all levels to ensure improved conditions for workers in the fields. ETI advises that brands will also want to assess how their purchasing terms affect the situation and whether this is a driver of low standards.

The report recognizes that international retailers cannot be expected to take lone responsibility for changing a pervasive system. Italian tomato processors are significant companies in their own right and must also accept accountability for due diligence and reporting within their supply chains, as must organisations of agricultural producers including cooperatives.

There is also a role for government to tighten legal protection for all workers, to impose any necessary sanctions as recommended by the EU, increase labor inspections and require strict compliance with collective bargaining agreements.

For more information:
Jane Moyo, Acting Communications Manager
Ethical Trading Initiative
+44(0)207 841 4358
+44(0)7944 270833
www.ethicaltrade.org

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