Retailers and suppliers should “urgently map” their supply chains of Italian tomatoes according to a new report with evidence of exploitation of migrant workers.
The report, published by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), said it has found “massive exploitation” in Italy’s agricultural and in tomato production in particular, which it said is linked to networks of illegal gangmasters that are known as Caporali.
Italy officially banned the Caporalato system in 2011, ETI said, following revelations of shocking working conditions and links to organised crime, but research institute Osservatorio Placido Rizzotto has estimated that in excess of 100,000 illegally employed non-EU migrant workers are experiencing severe exploitation.
“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,” said ETI’s food and farming advisor, Nick Kightley.
“UK retailers typically enter the Italian supply chain at processer 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.”
The ETI has urged retailers to urgently map their supply chains, prioritising areas most at risk of exploiting migrant workers and include assessment of wages paid and hours worked, as well as considering how purchasing plans may be driving low standards.
Italian tomato processors and grower co-operatives must also accept accountability for exploitation in their supply chains, while the government should tighten legal protection for workers, increase inspections and require strict compliance with bargaining agreements, the ETI recommended.
The report, named ‘Counteracting exploitation of migrant workers in Italian tomato production, found that while illegality affects both EU and non-EU workers, 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.
British retailers are particularly affected as Italian tomatoes account for 60 per cent of processed tomatoes sold in the UK, ETI said.
“Foreign labour 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,” Kightley added.