Widespread exploitation of migrant workers from Northern Africa and Eastern Europe is linked to the illegal recruitment system of caporalato, whereby labour providers, known as ‘caporali’, organise teams of workers willing to work long hours in strenuous conditions for salaries below minimum wage. Caporalato is a widespread phenomenon characterised by a lack of contractual protection, exploitative working hours, illegal rates of compensation, harsh treatment, and bonded labour.
It is estimated that 300 000 – 500 000 migrants work in Italian agriculture of which approximately 100 000 suffer severe exploitation and dire living conditions. Irregular work has been on the rise in recent years and is estimated to affect about a third of the agricultural workers in Italy. The risk of labour exploitation is particularly high for manual harvesting, as opposed to mechanical, as large teams of workers are brought in to the fields to harvest the tomatoes in a short period of time. Manual harvesting is used more frequently in the South and is estimated to account for between 20% and about 50% of the produce.
The report describes migration and seasonal work in Italy, the supply chain of Italian tomato products, national requirements by law and collective bargaining agreements, the risk of violations of labour standards, and agricultural sector trade unions and professional organisations. Importantly, it gives detailed due diligence recommendations to food retailers on how they can work to eradicate worker exploitation in their tomato product supply chains. It also describes the status and effectiveness of national and regional initiatives aimed at tackling the problem.
he food retailers are advised to carry out a human rights due diligence of their tomato product supply chains based on the principles of the UN Guiding principles on business and human rights. This involves assessing the human rights impacts and risk of abuses both at their direct suppliers (Italian processing companies) and at the farms that their suppliers source from. Actions must be taken to prevent and mitigate these impacts and risks.
Specifically, their suppliers should be checked for how they respect labour rights within their companies and systems for traceability and follow-up of the farms that they source from. Farm locations should be mapped and screened against available risk data for those locations. Audits should be carried out by competent local partners in locations associated with high risk
To reduce the risk of worker abuse, retailers should seek that the tomato farms that can do mechanical harvesting, have a good reputation and is able to match the quantity produced with the amount of labour used. They should aim for long-term relations with their supplier in order to build their trust and maximize their ownership for tackling these issues. They should evaluate if their own purchasing terms negatively affect working conditions at the farms, and if necessary what can be done to improve this.
Finally, the retailers cannot tackle these issues on its own Thus, they are advised to support general efforts to improve the situation for the migrant workers, and in particular partake actively in the IEH project on Decent Work in Italian agriculture.