Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labour?

22 July 2019

The article by Tobias Jones and Ayo Awokoya Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labour? How the Italian mafia makes millions by exploiting migrants published in the Guardian on 20th June, looks into the phenomenon of gangmasters. Amongst the interviewees was Lucio Cavazzoni, Chairman of Goodland.


It’s an investigation of the gangmaster phenomenon and of slave-labour in our country. It’s an essay which concentrates in particular on industrial, hand-picked tomatoes in Puglia, and oranges in Calabria, where the cultivations cover thousands of hectares.

I read every line attentively, feeling both surprised and guilty at my ignorance. The interviews conducted drew a picture of a criminal phenomenon which involves everyone, some directly and others, like the consumer, indirectly; some in a guilty way, others in a positive way. There are many people who battle against the practise, like Yvan Sagnet, Leonardo Palmisano, Rocco Borgese and Marco Omizzolo.
Yvan Sagnet was, in 2011, the spokesman of a strike against gangmasters and against agricultural entrepreneurs in Nardo’, which led to the introduction of anti-gangmaster legislation. He is now the co-founder of NO CAP, an association founded to combat all forms of human and environmental exploitation.

It’s an investigation that is also a work of memorialisation: many of the names of the labourers, both migrants and non-migrants, who have died in shanty towns are mentioned.

In the slums, real ghost cities like San Ferdinando in Calabria and Borgo Mezzanone in Puglia, there’s everything: a barber, a butcher, a workshop for bicycle repair, but there’s no drinking water. In Rosarno, “all the bushes for miles around have been coppiced by labourers for twigs and sticks to build their shacks.” It’s estimated that there are thousands of people living there. They have no rights because they’re “illegals”, without residency permits. They do piece-work and never earn more than 30 euros a day. In 2018, the Global Slavery Index, drawn up by the NGO Walk Free Foundation, suggested that 50,000 agricultural laborers in Italy are in conditions of slavery. There’s no relationship between the cost of labor and the price of the product: 7.5 cents is the per-kilo price of tomatoes paid to the farmer. Food corporations, supermarkets and consumers are the beneficiaries. The consumers make savings at the cost of the well-being of the agricultural laborers. In the article, Lucio Cavazzoni, the Chairman of Goodland, wonders who the generals are if we see before us the gangmasters, the “corporals”, and was interviewed on the subject of food certifications. What else could reassure the attentive, knowledgeable consumer? Certifications, and the indispensable action of repressing illegality, are important, but a direct commitment to construct in the fields a system of workers’ and human rights, analogous to that in industry or the third sector, is fundamental. Ghettoes, and the exploitation of people which always coincides with the exploitation, also, of the land, are unacceptable.     Read article here.