From Field to Fork: Trafficking and Exploitation in Italy’s Farmlands
On October 18, 2023, JCU hosted a talk called “From Field to Fork: Trafficking and Exploitation in Italy’s Farmlands.” The guest speakers were Jean-Rene Bilongo (President, Osservatorio Placido Rizzotto), Tommaso Ramus (Professor, ESSEC Business School), Yvan Sagnet (Founder, Associazione NoCap), and Marco Omizzolo (Professor at Sapienza University of Rome). JCU Associate Professor of International Relations Silvia Scarpa and Sociology and Italian Studies Professor Isabella Clough Marinaro also participated in the discussion. The talk was moderated by Associate Professor of Management Professor Riccardo Maiolini.
The meeting discussed the issue of work exploitation in agriculture in Italy and included statistics on labor exploitation and slavery-like conditions in Europe. The talk introduced the concept of caporalato, where workers in the agricultural sector are recruited by intermediaries – “gangmasters” – who often contribute to them being exploited with low wages and poor working conditions.
Jean-Rene Bilongo began by discussing the issue of exploitation in agriculture. He reported that of the 1.2 million workers involved in the agribusiness system in Italy, about 30% are foreign. The largest community of migrants employed in agriculture is from Europe, particularly from Romania, while the largest group of non-European workers come from Morocco. Bilongo further said that the gender distribution is unequal and that 73% of men do physical labor. He mentioned that, due to caporalato, workers often receive only 30% of their salary and experience precarious working conditions. Bilongo concluded by mentioning that although the situation is still difficult, unions play an “incredible role” in combating the issue of labor exploitation. As a result of unions’ organized efforts, a law against the illegal recruitment of agricultural workers was passed in 2016.
Professors Silvia Scarpa, Isabella Clough Marinaro and Tommaso Ramus
Professor Silvia Scarpa continued by emphasizing the need for a discussion on the seriousness of exploitation in agriculture in general, and how it is sanctioned according to Italian criminal law under various articles of the Penal Code, dealing with slavery, servitude, trafficking in persons and caporalato. The legal framework is very complex and some of these crimes – including caporalato – were only introduced very recently. Professor Scarpa also addressed the issue of legislation, noting that often there is a visible criminal law or labor law approach, which should be in her view supported by other equally strong prevention, victims’ protection, and partnership approaches – based on the 4Ps approach developed by the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, in Particular Women and Children, and further promoted by the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which are treaties containing binding obligations for Italy.
Professor Isabella Clough Marinaro illustrated why the Italian agricultural system is so vulnerable to criminal activities. She explained that there is a dependency problem that stems from the very structural nature of the organization of agriculture in Italy. Asylum and residency application procedures leave people in legal limbo for long periods of time, which makes them even more vulnerable to exploitation. Another problem concerns the scarce resources Italian labor inspectors have to monitor working conditions on small farms. Professor Clough Marinaro added that the phenomenon is not new: Italian agricultural labor, especially in the South, has been subject to issues like caporalato and control by organized crime for over a century. However, she underlined that features of contemporary capitalist food production expose farmers and workers to greater vulnerabilities than ever before
Professor Tommaso Ramus touched on the importance of approaching agribusiness system problems from multiple perspectives and involving companies in the process. He also briefly mentioned Grand Challenges, a series of initiatives that fosters innovation to solve key global health and development problems since 2003.
Yvan Sagnet was the leader of the 2011 foreign agricultural workers strike, which involved 1,200 people and enabled the introduction of caporalato as a crime in the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure. He also founded the NoCap Association (No Caporalato), whose motto is “from protest to proposal.” He explained that the NoCap Association tackles the fact that our system is illogical because the price of the product is defined by wholesalers who buy food, not by those who produce it. NoCap rewards companies that recognize and share principles and values based on respect for people and the environment
. The goal, then, is to prioritize people instead of products, and farmers instead of profit.
Marco Omizzolo highlighted how exploitation is both political and economic, since it implies a state of absolute dependence on employers. Marginalization and the consumption of doping substances to endure manual labor are just some of the factors contributing to subordination and humiliation of workers. Omizzolo has also worked on the ground to help workers achieve better conditions. He has taught many to translate labor contracts into their original languages to enable them to understand what they were up against. As a result, 5,000 workers willingly organized a strike on April 18, 2016, to demonstrate against the cultural and physical violence they were being subjected to by employers.