Beware Italian tomatoes after migrant abuse warning

By Alice Foster contact

- Last updated on GMT

A photograph, included in the report, shows a migrant worker picking tomatoes in Italy
A photograph, included in the report, shows a migrant worker picking tomatoes in Italy
Food manufacturers that use tomato products from Italy should be “very concerned” about the massive exploitation of migrant workers there, warns the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).

Migrant tomato pickers in Italy endure appalling working and living conditions plus low wages and long hours, according to a report published by ETI today (December 9). 

Exploitation takes place at the hands of illegal gangmasters, known as caporali, that supply migrant workers to harvest tomatoes on Italian farms, the ETI report claimed.

ETI’s food and farming adviser Nick Kightley said: “While this report is primarily about helping UK retailers ensure their supply chains are abuse free, UK food manufacturers that use tomato products sourced from Italy should also be very concerned. 

‘Trace back through supply chains’ 

Key findings from ETI report

  • Migrant tomato pickers paid on average 40% less than local workers
  • Migrant workers regularly work 12 hours a day for less than €30
  • Italy supplies 60% of processed tomatoes sold in UK
  • About 350,000 migrants travel to Italy every year

“It’s crucial that manufacturers trace back through their supply chains to ensure migrant workers are not being exploited.” 

Kightley said the exploitation was linked to an illegal recruitment system, called caporalato, which was banned in 2011 due to worker abuse and links to organised crime. 

“ETI’s report confirms that the caporalato employment system is almost ubiquitous throughout Italian horticulture, with many thousands of migrant workers subject to atrocious working and living conditions,” ​he said. 

Caporali reportedly pocket up to half of workers’ daily pay by charging fees for transportation, food, phone top-ups, accommodation, money transfers and the number of crates filled, ETI found.  

Earned less than €30 a day

A 26-year-old migrant worker from Senegal, who was interviewed last year and quoted in the report, said they paid up to €1,000 for work contracts and earned less than €30 a day. 

It is impossible to have direct contact with employers. The caporale takes your papers to draft the employment contract,” ​the worker said.  

“But when you ask about it, they are elusive and say that they will give it to you after the work is done. Caporali keep half of our pay.” 

To read the report ​ Due diligence in agricultural supply chains: Counteracting exploitation of migrant workers in Italian tomato production ​ click here​. 

Meanwhile, canned food manufacturer Princes forged a partnership with its tomato supplier to form a new processing firm​ in Italy in 2012. 

Read Princes’s reaction to the ETI report below.   

What Princes says

“At Princes, we welcome and support the efforts of the Ethical Trading Initiative. A core principle of our corporate responsibility is being a fair partner and we require suppliers to ensure good working practices throughout the supply chain. We have an absolute respect for human rights and oppose any form of illegal labour.

“We specify in our contracts that suppliers must meet all legal obligations in relation to the labour used in the supply of tomatoes, such as the observance of collective and individual employment contracts and welfare rights, including only using workers that are compliant with all legislation affecting the industry.”

  • Spokeswoman, Princes

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