A new project “Expressions of Humanity – What kind of world do we want to live in. The consumer and the supply chain’ by Time For Equality sheds light on labor exploitation and forced labor in global supply chains. The event titled ‘Fair Work, Fair Price, Fair Pay’, organized in collaboration with Rotondes on October 28th, 2020, took the participants into a cruel world of labor exploitation in the agri-food production sector in Italy.
It is estimated that there are around 400,000 to 500,000 migrant workers in the Italian agricultural sector, making up of around half of its total workforce (UN OHCHR, 2020). The Pontine Marshes is a marshland situated in the Lazio region in Italy, where approximately 30,000 Indian migrants from the Punjab state live (Bacchi, 2020). Most of the workers are ‘employed’ by a gangmaster the so-called caporale and forced to work for a farm under harsh working conditions with insufficient or no social security.
The Caporalato is a system typical of Italy. The caporale is a broker or illegal intermediate between workers and farmers. On the promise of work, accommodation, travel arrangement and paperwork, a caporale recruits workers and organizes their labor activities. Workers, mainly undocumented migrants, are forced to work under illegal or inhumane conditions: long working hours under hot temperature without enough break; low wage of 3-5 euros an hour; without legal or social protection; daily threat of firing; verbal and physical abuse, and the list goes on… Their indebtedness to a caporale, language barriers as well as insecure legal status seem to impede workers to resist their caporalato.
The Harvest (2017)
The Harvest is a documentary-musical film directed by Andrea Paco Mariani, which replicates exploitative working conditions of migrant workers from Punjab, India, in the agri-food farms in the Latina province. The film not only depicts precarious lives of Punjabis but also includes real voices of workers and activists recounting the harsh reality, which can be characterized as a form of modern slavery.
The film also includes Punjabi style dance and colorful and bright traditional dresses, nevertheless, this does not give any comical or joyful impression. Rather, it illustrates their pain and repressed agency.
One of the main interesting points in the film is the contrast between the two main characters: Gurwinder, a farm laborer born in Punjab and moved to the Latina province and Hardeep born in Italy and a daughter of a Punjabi migrant. The film describes and intertwines two different stories of a day. The day of Gurwinder replicates the inhumane environment surrounding him. Although Gurwinder barely speaks any words, his eyes, face, looks and motions express his suffering and emotions. On the other hand, the day of Hardeep reports her efforts and struggles as a cultural mediator for the Sikh community, teaching migrants Italian language and lessons to empower them to resist.
Another touching point is indignant (one-way) interactions between employers and workers. Employers’ behaviors towards workers are nothing but inhumane, insulting and barbaric. They barely call workers by their names but by systematic labels such as ‘team 1’, ‘team 2’ etc., treat workers as if they were machinery, make fun of their appearance and culture and look down on them. Workers are racialized, dehumanized and facing a modern form of slavery.
Oro Rosso, Stefania Prandi
While The Harvest prominently portrays the lives of male Punjabi workers in the agri-food production sector, when shedding light on experiences among female migrants in the sector, different narratives are revealed.
The event also screened a video of a dialogue between Time For Equality’s founder Rosa Brignone and Stefania Prandi, journalist, photographer and the author of the book ‘Oro Rosso’. In the interview, she presented some findings and messages from her investigation as regards female workers in the tomato and strawberry production sector in the Mediterranean region, notably in Italy, Spain and Morocco. Stefania Prandi testifies some of the workers’ experiences by showing their portray pictures.
Besides the unequal power relationship between workers and contractors as depicted in The Harvest, the investigation by Stefania Prandi tells that female workers often experience gender-based violence in exchange for the right to work. Some of the examples include their daily experiences of sexual harassment and rape by their bosses, a case in which a woman got fired just after refusing to have sex with her employer, insults, humiliation, blackmail, etc..
Prandi continues the discussion with regard to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector, which reminds us of the fact that the burden on, and the insecurity of, precarious people are prone to increase in the time of a crisis, because the current systems tend to put pressure on them to make up for deficiencies emerged out of the crisis.
While most women remain silent due to fear of punishment at work or loss of their job, Stefania Prandi also shared with us stories of some brave women who spoke up and reported the rape. On the one hand, these narratives impress us with their braveness and courage. On the other hand, these also remind us of the importance of reflecting upon the system and their position which leave them no choice but to be brave to survive.
The Orange Girl
The event closed with a presentation of ‘The Orange Girl’, a small business by Imma Di Marco to connect small producers in Eastern Sicily to consumers in Luxembourg. The Orange Girl herself witnessed an unfair local trade system from her own experience, then founded a Luxembourg-based food hub to make sure logistics and distribution of distribution of food products sourced from small producers be done ‘fairly’, ‘transparently’ and ‘human’ to ‘human’.
In fact, the retail step of global value chains is dominated by a few major supermarkets controlling the markets and exercising power over farmers (Salvia, 2020). As a result, small farmers are often marginalized or excluded from being part of the global value chain, and farmers try to adopt the standards or fulfil the needs by retailers or buyers so as not to be excluded, increasing demand for a flexible, temporary and precarious labor force (Salvia, 2020).
The story of The Orange Girl not only recalls us the power dynamics involved in each steps of global supply chains, but also makes us realize that we, in fact, are not really familiar with the logistics and distribution chains that foods we consume have traced. Oranges, kiwis, pastas and tomatoes that we pick up in supermarkets might come from the hands of a Punjabi migrant worker in the Latina province, or a person who experienced similar exploitative working conditions.
Text by Yuki Fujita for Time For Equality
Bacchi, U. (2020) Indian Labourers Exploited on Italian Farms Turn to Opium to Cope. The Wire. Available at: https://thewire.in/agriculture/opium-numbs-pain-indian-pickers-exploited-italian-farms (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
Salvia, L. (2020) The restructuring of Italian agriculture and its impact upon capital–labour relations: Labour contracting and exploitation in the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain of the Lazio Region, Central Italy. J Agrar Change. 2020; 20: 98– 112. https://doi.org/10.1111/joac.12340
UN OHCHR (2020) Statement by Ms. Hilal Elver, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, on her Visit to Italy, 20-31 January 2020. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25512&LangID=E (Accessed: 28 October 2020).
featured photo @Stefania Prandi
My name is Yuki Fujita, born in Japan and acquis professional and academic experiences in different countries (Japan, France, The Netherlands, Haiti). I am currently enrolled in the Master’s program in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in Erasmus Rotterdam University in The Netherlands. My major is Social Policy for Development, focusing notably on issues such as poverty, inequality, exclusion and discrimination. I am passionate to learn about and contribute to the social transformation for a better society with respect, dignity, inclusion and diversity.