Strawberry harvest in a photovoltaic greenhouse in Italy | Photo: Archive/ANSA
Strawberry harvest in a photovoltaic greenhouse in Italy | Photo: Archive/ANSA

The founder of the StraBerry start-up will face trial in Italy on charges of exploiting 73 foreign laborers on berry farms in the Milan area. The first hearing of the trial will be held on July 13.

Guglielmo Stagno d'Alcontres, the founder of StraBerry, a start-up with photovoltaic greenhouses near Italy's northern city of Milan, will stand trial alongside others on charges of exploiting 73 foreign day laborers. The first hearing will be on July 13.

The foreign nationals has been used to grow and harvest strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries that were later sold off the back of vehicles. The decision was made by Milan judge Fabrizio Filice, who remanded to trial two other defendants: the former and current CEOs of the company.

The agricultural company Casina Pirola has instead agreed to a plea bargain of just over 70,000 euros in fines. The former guard of the day labourers has agreed to a plea bargain of a suspended sentence of a year and a half.

Some 34 workers and the Italian farmers association Coldiretti are the plaintiffs in the trial for labor exploitation, which resulted from an investigation conducted by the Italian financial police.

Underpaid migrants forced to work shifts of up to 12 hours

The workers, all of whom are from African countries, were allegedly underpaid and forced to harvest berries during shifts of as long as 12 hours a day without any protection from COVID or showers to keep themselves clean.

The company, founded by the 34-year-old graduate of Italy's elite Bocconi University, was seized in August 2020. According to the deeds of the investigation, his mother (who was also remanded to trial) and two other defendants - in charge of "watching over the labourers" and "their wages" - had forced the 73 workers to suffer "exploitative conditions, profiting from their neediness" and threatening them.

They were reportedly paid 4 euros an hour to work in the fields, did not have washroom facilities available, and were subjected to "surveillance methods" and racist insults if they spoke to each other, charged their phones or drank water.

The entrepreneur allegedly made them call him the "big boss" and said that "you need to work with them in a tribal manner."


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