From archive: Migrants picking oranges in Italy | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa
From archive: Migrants picking oranges in Italy | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa

Half of the agricultural workforce in Italy is made up of migrants. Those are the findings from the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. “Migrant workers are being exploited by the Italian food system,” said Elver during a visit to Italy last week.

Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has denounced the finding that half of the agricultural workforce in Italy is made up of migrants who are mainly without documents.

Agricultural workers endure "excessively long hours under difficult conditions," with a salary "too low to cover their basic needs," Elver was quoted as saying in a statement issued on January 31. 

Undocumented migrant workers "are left in limbo" with no access to regular jobs. The workforce is "being exploited by the sophisticated Italian food system," the UN special rapporteur said wrapping up an 11-day visit to Italy last week.

"Despite an estimated GDP of USD 2.84 trillion, world-renowned innovative businesses, a large agriculture sector and modern manufacturing capabilities, Italy's workers and smallholder farmers are bearing heavy burdens and are being exploited by the sophisticated Italian food system," said the visiting UN human rights expert. 

'Migrants in limbo' 

"I have spoken with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, agricultural workers who work excessively long hours under difficult conditions and with a salary too low to cover their basic needs, undocumented migrant workers who are left in limbo, with no access to regular jobs nor the possibility of renting a decent place to live and students who do not have access to school canteens because their families are too poor to pay for it," Elver said.

"As a developed country and the third largest economy in Europe, such levels of poverty and food insecurity in Italy are unacceptable. The Italian government should understand food charity is not to be confused with the right to food," Elver continued. Migrants represent about half of the agricultural sector's workforce, the UN representative said.

"Between 450,000 to 500,000 migrants are working in Italy's agricultural sector, representing about half of its total workforce. Agriculture is often the only sector in which low-skilled workers can find employment. The highest share of illegal workers in relation to the total number of migrant workers is found in agriculture."

'System promotes illegal exploitation' 

"From the north to the south of Italy, hundreds of thousands of workers farm the land or take care of livestock without adequate legal and social protections, coping with insufficient salaries and living under the constant threat of losing their job, being forcibly repatriated or becoming the object of physical and moral violence," the expert said. 

Seasonal and non-seasonal workers often end up involved in the 'caporalato' or gang-master system because it represents the only possibility to "sell their labor and obtain payment." Italian legislation approved in 2016 against labor exploitation "appears unable to uphold the human rights of all farmworkers, in particular undocumented migrants, who are kept in a condition of invisibility and fear."

Law 199/2016 extended the scope of measures against the gang-master system, known as 'caporalato', which outsources the recruitment of temporary workers to intermediaries and is accused of being exploitative.The report also criticized the adoption of the 2018 decree on security and immigration, known as the 'Salvini decree' after ex-deputy premier and interior minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the League party. 

The report said the legislation contributed to "an increase in the number of undocumented migrant workers, accelerated the illegalization of asylum seekers and pushed people further into illegal work without any labor protection. There are now about 680,000 undocumented migrants, twice as many as existed only five years ago," concluded the UN envoy. Elver visited the regions of Lazio, Lombardy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Puglia and Sicily, all of which have fairly strong agricultural sectors. 
 

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