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  • As migrants are coming to Italy in rising numbers, more and more are swept into the illegal tomato picking industry.

    As migrants are coming to Italy in rising numbers, more and more are swept into the illegal tomato picking industry.

Agriculture is widely accepted to be one of the Italian economic sectors most scarred by organized crime — and the massive tomato industry is no exception.

Investigations by Italian labor unions have revealed that a vast army of vulnerable, often stateless North African and Eastern European migrants are picking tomato crops at the behest of illegal work-gang masters and are being held in slave-like conditions in rural ghettos.

The unions are calling for action as rising numbers of migrants travel to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East, raising concerns of increased exploitation of migrant workers.

Many are waiting for the Italian bureaucracy to process their asylum applications, leaving them with no legal right to work and with little choice but to rely on local charity or find work illegally, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

During the summer tomato picking season, when temperatures hover in the 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), thousands of men converge to sleep and live without running water or toilets, overseen by work gang bosses known as "caporali" (the corporals).

A research project by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs released last December described a mobile, seasonal workforce living in extreme poverty, often without water and sanitation, housed in abandoned buildings or tent cities with little or no healthcare.


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