Mafia-led modern slavery remains a problem in Italy’s agricultural sector.
ROME-- Modern day slavery continues to exist, despite the fact that it has been declared illegal in the majority of the countries around the world. A study conducted by the Walk Free Foundation demonstrated that for European countries such as Poland, Turkey, and Italy, the abuse of foreign and local workers is highly common.
In Italy, modern slavery is not a new issue. With thousands of migrants arriving at its shores, Italy has been projected to have Europe’s highest risk for slavery, according to the Modern Slavery Index of 2017. Due to a rise in migration, and a stagnant economy, thousands of low-income Italians, migrant workers, asylum seekers, have become susceptible to trafficking by mafia run organized criminal organizations.
The risk is further bolstered by the current Government of Italy’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposed budget cuts to the national reception system. This is all being exploited by human traffickers and labor exploiters who take advantage of Italy’ current political climate and utilize immigration reception centers as “hubs” for recruitment.
This is further compounded by the demand for cheap labor by cash-strapped farmers who coalesce with labor recruiters to exploit cheap labor.
In this regard, Italy’s Pontina region represents an example. Many workers rely on unofficial gangmasters to find jobs in the thousands of farms distributed throughout the region and are paid far less than the official minimum wage. This is propelled by corruption and organized crime not least the Italian mafia, which are widespread in the food and farming sector, and in 2016 amounted to 21.8 billion euros in illegal profits. Therefore, in a territory of clear agricultural vocation, there are pouches of widespread exploitation, which effectively end up plunging some laborers into slave-trading conditions.
The example of Paola Clemente, a 49 years old woman, who died in the grape fields of southern Italy brings to light Italy’s complex network of human trafficking and forced labor. Ms.Clemente’s death has uncovered an elaborate system of modern-day slavery, which encompasses both migrants and seasonal workers: it is at the heart of those agricultural zones, especially where the Italian state cannot reach and control these remote areas. Migrant workers are more likely to be subject, than other victims, to physical and emotional abuse and are forced to work up to 20 hours a day.
They are deprived of their documents and obliged to pay for lodging and other essential needs. For example, Italy’s Sikh migrant workers -it is estimated that there are 10,000 officially employed on farms in Pontina alone-are subject to exploitation and intimidation in some of Italy’s biggest food-producing regions. The case of Singh is one of these thousands.
Mr.Singh arrived in Italy from Punjab in northern India in 2008. In Italy, Singh labored for 12 hours a day, six days a week on a fruit and vegetable farm in Pontina. The work was backbreaking, the wages poor – €150 a week at most – and has suggested his employer was violent and abusive. However, even many Sikh migrants are unable or unwilling to protest against their condition, due to the fear of consequences for them and their loved ones.
Ms.Clemente’s case proved a catalyst. It prompted an Italian legislator in July 2015 to propose a law intended to tackle the exploitation of agricultural workers. The law, if passed, foresees stricter penalties for more entities than before. From now on, sanctions, such as the confiscation of property, will be addressed not only to labor bosses but also to employers aware and responsible for the exploitation. Six years of imprisonment are reserved for those who commit crimes of illicit intermediation and labor exploitation. In addition, each recruited worker will be charged with a penalty which ranges from € 500 € 1000, which can increase up to € 2000 under aggravating circumstances of a threat or violence. In the end, state administrations will be involved in the supervision of the reception of those workers that are committed in the seasonal harvest.
Even though police controls in some troubled areas of Italy have increased recently, police admit they are not making sufficient progress. This is due to the high levels of mafia-led intimidations and blackmailing, which are at the center of seasonal workers’ fear to speak to the police.
Mr. Marco Omizzolo, founder of ‘In Migrazione’, recently suggested there has been an increase in protests against authorities about the treatment of employees and those have played an important role in reducing exploitation and the fear associated with speaking out. However, the initial momentum has slowed down, due in part to the exhaustingly slow pace of the Italian legal system, which discourages workers from denouncing their employers. The proposed law will bolster controls, and built a support system for complains, which at a legal level would have helped people denounce labor exploitations.
Therefore, millennials should advocate for adopting policies that can induce the Italian legal system to be more effective at trade unions level. This would mean safeguarding particularly workers’ rights e.g. workers’ sufficient exposure to sunlight and moderation of their working hours with breaks.
In addition, millennials should involve migrants in the political process. For example, state administrations should also be run former migrant workers, already recognized by the state as Italian workers, to supervise labor reception system. Millennials should contribute and help local agencies in understanding and defeating Camorra’s, the local Italian mafia, capacity. They have penetrated the local agricultural systems through the acquisition of companies of great dimensions and even of criminal organizations such as those of Indian imprint. This has been consolidated in the course of the years through the association with Italian agricultural companies, which provide them cheap labor, and even have an international trade manager in charge of labor exploitation. To help counter their influence, and at a practical level, Millennials can make donations to the A.I.L.P, the Italian Association for workers and retired people.
Giulia Ciriachi is a senior contributor to TIB