On World Food Day, the Freedom United community is calling on the Italian government to protect all workers in Italy’s food and agricultural sector from forced labor by signing and ratifying Protocol to ILO Convention 29.
The practice of caporalato, by which fraudulent brokers exploit poor, generally foreign agricultural workers through wage theft and other forms of forced labor, remains prevalent in Italy, and the existing anti-caporalato law does not provide adequate protection against it.
Experts believe that caporalato has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the fact that Covid-19 has demonstrated how agricultural workers, particularly migrant workers, are fundamental to feeding the world.
In Italy, between 450,000 to 500,000 migrants are working in the agricultural sector, representing about half of its total workforce. Despite such a reliance on migrant labor for harvesting food that is exported all over the world, labor exploitation seems to be ‘the way of production’ in Italy,and in the last six years, 1500 agricultural workers have died as a result of their work.4
There are cases of laborers forced to work long hours, paid by the amount of produce collected, rather than an hourly, fair wage. Further, thousands of migrant farm workers are stuck in isolated and crowded outbuildings, tent cities, or in slums, without basic services such as water and sanitation, with activists describing these conditions as looking like concentration camps.
Those who are risking their lives to keep food on our plates and ensuring we are fed are often living in poor conditions without access to adequate hygiene that can only be described as a breeding ground for Covid-19.
Despite what the Italian government claims, the existing anti-caporalato law does not adequately protect workers in Italy. The practice of caporalato continues to be worth €17 billion a year,7 and is said to be on the rise in areas such as Sicily. The lengths those exploiting others in caporalato will go to continue profiting off the practice was highlighted in June 2020 when Adnan Siddique, a Pakistani migrant worker living in Caltanissetta, Sicily, was stabbed to death for defending those who are exploited in caporalato. Yet, still, the Italian government claims that current legislation is adequate to protect all workers from forced labor. This is evidently not the case.
But things don’t have to be this way.
We are urging the Italian government to join the 45 countries that have already ratified Protocol 29, and signify their commitment to ending forced labor and ensuring justice for those who have risked their lives to feed us during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
By ratifying and adopting Protocol 29, the Italian government would commit to drastically strengthening the existing anti-caporalato law:
A key aspect of caporalato is fraudulent recruitment. Protocol 29 includes explicit measures against fraudulent recruitment.
Migrant workers are little–mentioned in the existing anti-caporalato law, and undocumented migrants are totally ignored. Protocol 29 includes measures to protect all workers, regardless of visa category.
The current law does not focus on justice or compensation for victims, rather, just prosecution of the crime. Protocol 29 makes compensation of victims a priority.
The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated how essential food workers are to the world, and at the very least, all workers deserve to be adequately protected from exploitation.
Honor World Food Day by taking a stand and signing our petition to call for the Italian government to commit to justice for victims of forced labor in Italy.
Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.