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The Slaves of Food Production

Italy - 26 Oct 12

“Reorganizing the work of immigrants in agriculture is one of the biggest and most important problems for the Italian agricultural system.” With these words, Gaetano Pascale, the president of Slow Food Campania, opened the conference “Agriculture and Immigration” at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre 2012.

The main topic of the meeting was the exploitation of workers from outside the European Union. Speaking for them was young Yvan Sagnet from Cameroon. After leading the protest held by African immigrants against the illegal recruitment of agricultural workers for very low wages in Nardò in September 2011, he became a representative for FLAI CGIL, the Italian Federation of Agroindustry Workers. Yvan described the current situation and the reality of constant violence and exploitation. Even essential services like medicines are sold at arbitrary prices and with no medical or legal standards.

This illegal hiring of workers is called caporalato in Italian, and is run by caporali, who serve as intermediaries between employers and the non-EU workers. Exploiting the isolation of farmhouses and the immigrants’ linguistic, legal and cultural difficulties, the caporali hinder any attempts by the workers to free themselves from their control and obtain better working conditions.

For now, immigrants can get help from charitable organizations like Emergency and Equosud, for the most serious emergencies, but it is clear to the volunteers that this is little more than a stopgap solution. A more longlasting response to the problem could come from two directions. The first is institutional, with the creation of targeted laws on immigration, not strictly linked to work like the current ones, but instead focused on democratic standards and the protection of the individual. The second is economic: We must not forget that exploitation arises as a response to increasingly difficult conditions for those who chose to cultivate the land. The Libera Terra association suggests that here it might be worth considering the ethics of production when setting the price of a product.


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