Tens of thousands of Indian migrants live and work in Latina, a rural province south of Rome. Unfortunately, many of them suffer the fate of all too many migrant workers far from home – they are mistreated in ways that can only be described as modern slavery.
One such migrant is Balbir Singh who worked on a farm and endured 12 to 13 hour work days for what amounts to 50 cents an hour, being fed leftovers fit only for the garbage or feeding farm animals and having to bathe in the stables using the same hose he cleaned the cattle with.
Speaking of his ordeal, Singh told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that when his boss found out he had tried to secure a lawyer, he told Singh, “I’ll kill you, I’ll dig a hole, throw you in it, and fill it up.” Singh knew he had a gun and was afraid for his life.
The Italian farming and agriculture industry that has been plagued by forced labor due to a lack of legal and institutional protections. In fact, the UN estimates that more than 400,000 agricultural workers in Italy are at risk of exploitation.
Italy is a popular destination for migrants and refugees and it is unsurprising that migrant workers are the most vulnerable to exploitation. In Southern Italy in particular there is a practice known as “caporalato” in which people are forced to pay high sums of money to informal job recruiters, or “caporali,” who are often linked to organized crime.
Under an illegal but well-established system, they live under the thumb of “caporali”, the gangmasters who recruit farm labourers on behalf of land owners.
Typically, they are offered contracts but then are paid for only a fraction of their work.
“You may work 28 days, but they’ll mark only four on your pay slip, so at the end of the month you may get 200, 300 euros,” Omizzolo told AFP.
The Italian government has attempted to implement anti-caporali policies but they need stronger legislation to combat this complex trafficking network. Currently, the authorities are relatively powerless in the face of the caporali.
Singh was only able to be released after reaching out for help using Facebook and Whatsapp, managing to connect with the local Indian community and a human rights activist. His old employer is currently on trial for labor exploitation while Singh is in hiding as he is afraid that the man who once threatened his life will seek payback.
Freedom United maintains that international laws are needed to deal with forced labor in Italy. We are calling on the Italian government to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol and implement international standards to better protect workers in Italy’s agricultural sector.
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