Pictures of women working in the fields. Credit: Oxfam
Pictures of women working in the fields. Credit: Oxfam

There are about 430,000 undocumented workers in Italy's agricultural sector, 100,000 of whom are victims of exploitation, according to a recent Oxfam Italy report titled "Maturi Per Cambiamento" (Ripe for Change).

Of the exploited workers, eight in 10 are foreigners, according to the report, which highlights how the millions of men and women working every day to bring food to our tables are often living in poverty and victims of inhumane working conditions. 

This, in spite of the multi-billion profits generated by the food industry. Undocumented workers, exploited, underpaid In Italy in particular, 75% of female workers interviewed by Oxfam said they were underpaid and had to skip regular meals.

According to the most recently available data, in 2015 there were 430,000 irregular workers in the agriculture sector, potential victims of illegal work, "working" in nearly all the main seasonal fruit and vegetable supply chains sold in large distribution. Among these, 100,000 workers were victims of exploitation, 80% of whom were foreign and 42% of whom were women, who are underpaid compared to men in the same type of work.

 Some of the most serious types of exploitation and violation of rights include: work hours stretching up to 12 per day in the fields, workers exposed to toxic pesticides and extremely high temperatures in the summer and very low temperatures in the winter, abuse and violence against female workers, and average daily pay ranging between 15 and 20 euros (well under the legal minimum of 47 euros per day).

Supermarket chains lack equitable practices 

The study analyses the policies of some of the major supermarket chains in Europe and the United States, which are struggling to adopt more equitable business practices with regard to the small producers and farm workers in their supply chains. Oxfam highlights growing imbalances and exploitative practices in supermarket supply chains worldwide. In particular, the report cites that supermarkets are keeping an increasingly higher rate of the price paid by consumers - in some cases up to 50% - compared to the amount that goes to the workers and producers, which in some cases is less than 5%. 

The large majority of small-scale farmers and workers live in poverty, according to an analysis of the supply chain of 12 common supermarket products worldwide. On the other hand, in 2016 the top eight supermarket chains in the US listed on the stock exchange made nearly one trillion dollars, generating 22 billion in profits and paying out 15 billion to shareholders. 

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