One of the vans used to transport migrants to work in the fields and hired by bosses linked to organized crime groups.PHOTO/CARABINIERI
One of the vans used to transport migrants to work in the fields and hired by bosses linked to organized crime groups.PHOTO/CARABINIERI

Some 15,000 people are involved in the practice of subjecting migrants to exploitation with 'gang masters' in Italy. The individuals are part of a hierarchy that goes from drivers up to the bosses and are linked to organized crime groups specializing in human trafficking.

A report has found that 'gang masters' exploiting migrants for work in the agricultural sectors are actually part of a hierarchical organization that ranges from drivers to bosses numbering some 15,000 people in the country. The report was drawn up by the Osservatorio Placido Rizzotto of the FLAI CGIL union.


An army of 'gang masters

In all of the 220 agricultural districts considered, the report found that there was an average of 34 gang masters for about 102 per province. Every province generally has 3 or 4 agricultural sub-areas with different types of gang masters: on average, 21 team chiefs, 10 managerial gang masters, two that are linked to organized crime groups and one gang master that is part of a mafia group. The total adds up to about 15,000 across the entire nation. 

From team chief to mafia links 

Gang masters encompass a range of roles with the team chief the top-ranked, the one who has his own means of transport or can rent them and an expert in the organizational process linked to the phases of the harvest. Around him are work teams loyal to him that receive - either under the table or semi-so - wages equal to a fourth of what the contract provides for. 

There are gang masters that are violent and authoritarian who take significant chunks out of workers' wages as the ''cost of transportation'' (5 euros per day), goods for primary needs such as water (1.5 euros), a sandwich (3 euros) and often even housing. If the workers complain, they are sent away. 

And then there are teams of gang masters with links to organized crime groups and sometimes to mafia ones that run human trafficking networks and sometimes also agricultural firms under false names. There are both Italians and foreigners holding the latter position, who often make use of professional consultants to engage in money laundering and who use recruitment forms that are legal only in appearances, such as fake cooperatives or services firms. 

Hierarchy 

Gang masters have different positions in the hierarchy depending on the function they have. At the lowest level is a large group of gang masters in direct contact with the day laborers, followed by drivers and those involved in coordination and teams, deputy chiefs and those in charge of logistics, while at the very top are the gang master bosses in contact with firms. 

Firms and gang masters 

The observatory noted that 30,000 agricultural firms employee workers in an irregular manner in Italy. Among them, about 18,000 make use of gang masters (60%). Another 30% - is said to include about 9,000 firms - make use of violent and authoritarian gang masters. The number of gang masters employed by firms with direct or indirect collusion with the crime organization is up to 10% of the total or almost 3,000. Of the latter, 3%, or 900, make use of behaviors that are associated with the mafia.
 

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