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Italy’s kiwi fruit picked by exploited Indian workers

  • Published on
    April 14, 2023
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  • Category:
    Supply Chain
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Thousands of Punjabi migrants seek work abroad with many ending up on Italy’s kiwi farms. While they are paid only around half of Italy’s minimum wage, they accept these lower wages to help financially support their families back at home. Nevertheless, it is clear that these workers are exploited.

The demand for agricultural labor in the kiwi growing regions of the country is particularly intense during the harvest season, beginning in September. This is the time when many migrants find work, often through word-of-mouth.

Data from the National Institute of Social Security predicts there to be around 9,500 Indian migrant workers in Latina, where Lazio and its 6,000 kiwi farms are located. However, sociologists like Marco Omizzolo say the government is underestimating these numbers, predicting the real number to be closer to double. 

No other option but to endure exploitation

According to the Wire, many migrants began their journeys during the COVID-19 pandemic, when work at home was harder to find. They were brought across country borders after paying large sums to traffickers, often living in life-threatening conditions.

In Aprilia, workers like Kamaljit and Joginder are forced to work 12 hours each day. They reported going to bed in pain and waking up in pain, but still going to work. At night, they would try to use bandages to stave off the pain from excessive labor.

Workers are also only paid around five to six euros an hour, far below the nine euros an hour that is the basic wage of an agricultural worker in Italy.

There are also unjustified layoffs, a lack of proper sanitation, too short breaks, and a lack of mandatory protective equipment. In some cases, migrants without the correct paperwork are treated as slaves.

For some, the work is grueling but necessary because of a lack of economic opportunity back home.

Migrants dehumanized

Emigrants frequently suffer from abuse and mistreatment. Gurijinder Singh, who has worked in the kiwi farms of Lazio for 15 years, has never earned more than five or six euros an hour. At one company, his supervisor filmed him when he stopped to drink water or clean dirt from his eyes. These videos were sent to the company head as ‘proof’ of poor performance to avoid paying him for those days.

In another case, Balbir Singh reported his working conditions because his employers had taken away his passport and virtually incarcerated him. He was ultimately granted a long-stay visa for “reasons of justice.” 

Lack of corporate accountability for workers exploited

The biggest buyer of kiwi fruit in Lazio is Zespri, a New Zealand multinational. Zespri owns the patent for the kiwi fruit and distributes licenses to cooperatives, who then seek the ‘best’ farmers to grow the fruit. Tomizzolo calls this operation an “entrepreneurial skein,” meaning that with so many elements in the supply chain, compliance and accountability are lost. 

Zespri’s care for fruit is in stark contrast to the conditions of the labor force. Amandee Singh, who formerly worked at a consortium that produced kiwi directly for Zespri, reported:

“They always want you to work fast, they shout at you to hurry up. When they pay you, they take a few hours out of the pay cheque. And they don’t pay you for all your days of work.” 

Workers like Amandeep have had to endure wages as low as 4.50 euros per hour in order to secure a contract.

Zespri says they find labor exploitation unacceptable and encourage people with knowledge of violations to report them to the EthicsPoint-Zespri International phone line. 

However, they failed to respond to the finding that Craig Thompson, director of Zespri Group Limited and Zespri International Limited, is a shareholder in one of the Kiwi-producing companies whose laborers were interviewed in the investigation. The company exploited workers paying only 6.50 euros per hour without adequate safety devices.

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