Almost all of Italian and Spanish vegetables that find it’s way to our stores, refrigirators and dishes are grown by heavily exploited migrant workers, refugees and migrants. Doctor of political sciences, author of many audio-documentaries and activist Roman Herzog visited migrant workers and told us what he witnessed. 

Roman Herzog, activist and doctor of political sciences, author of many audio-documentaries has been living in Sicily (Italy) for a decade. He visited migrant workers on plantations who work and live under extremely poor conditions.  He witnessed the growth and collection of vegetables in modern times before they are transported to the markets and spread trough Europe and further.

Below you can read the interview. The audio will be online soon.

 

“WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE VEGETABLES EXPORTED FROM ITALY IS PICKED UP BY THESE HEAVILY EXPLOITED MIGRANT WORKERS?
99%. Spain is the same. I don’t know about Greece. For France, Spain and Italy is the same.”

 

WHAT MAKES BUYING VEGETABLES IMPORTED FROM ITALY A QUESTIONABLE ACT FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HUMAN RIGHTS?

This topic is well covered by many documentaries and by many good journalists. One who has done great work on the topic is Fabrizio Gatti, correspondent of Italian l’Espresso. He is also working as an undercover journalist, similar to this German guy Gunter Wallraff who made himself an immigrant and worked for the newspaper Bild-Zeitung. Fabrizio GattI is working similar to that. He made himself a second identity which and named himself Bilal. Recently he also wrote a book on that and the book is also called Bilal. All this stories he made for L’Esspresso are collected there.

Fabrizzio Gatti was interned in Lampedusa camp. He arrived there as a refugee and he described what is happening in there. He described fascist appeals in the night when they make migrants walk in the line and make them jump over the border so to say just to terrorize them. Things like that. These are the extreme things. And all the ill treatment in between of course.

He also worked on plantations in South Italy, in Puglia. Our economic system is forcing people into inhumane working conditions . Demand for cheap products results in slavery like working conditions – not only in the cas of electronics that are assembled by little chinese hands of 10 year old children. These kids are working 12 hours a day and getting something like 1 eur or 1.50 eur if they are lucky. They are living in compounds and they never go out. But this is not only happening in China, we have this kind of conditions also inside Europe. Not only in Italy but also in Germany, also in Slovenia. In Germany the kitchen assistants, the cooks, the nurses and people who care about the old people are illegal migrants. Not all of them, but many. Just because they are cheap. In Germany we have a health system which doesn’t do it’s job properly anymore. This is why people are in need of assistance because of different reasons – your husband might had died, you are ill, you are 78 years old and you have a little money. But your son or daughter arranges the assistance because she knows there is a migrant working as assistant for EUR 200 or 300 a month. And you have this situations in plantations in Italy also.

This is because the EU’s agricultural system is absolutely industrialized and only few europeans are willing to work in the agriculture because it is so little paid. The people who are working on plantations, disseminating and collecting fruits and vegetables are mostly migrants. They are not only African migrants. Many of them come to Puglia, Italy from eastern Europe, from Poland, Romania, from other countries.

3:50 These are seasonal migrant workers and they have always been there in history. Today these migrant workers – migrants and refugees –  are coming here, looking for a better life, for a better job and in Italy they get only this kind of jobs.

If you work on plantations you get EUR 30 or 35 a day for 10 to 12 hours of hard job. Many of these workers are living in very poor conditions.  There is this big agricultural zone near Pachino where I live in Sicily. Pachino is the place where world famous tomatoes grow. You can buy them here in Supermarker in Ljubljana for EUR 3 per kilo. They are very good and sweet. Farmers who sell tomatoes get 10 or 20 cents per kilo. So you can imagine that working there in these industrialized compounds are actually migrants. All the tomatoes growing there, it is all done by migrants. They shift from one place to another, according to the season.  Some weeks they are in Puglia and collect the oranges and they move to another place to collect potatoes and then they move to tomatoes. They are living on the plantations and in abandoned houses – there are a lot of abandoned houses in southern Italy. There is nothing inside these houses, they are collapsing. These seasonal workers organize themselves. I visited them together with a lawyer to make some interviews. I brought a lawyer because these workers have so many needs – next to basic needs and of course their rights. They cook in 1st World War like circumstances.  They prepare food in old plastic things, maybe in old plastic containers that contained the chemicals for the plantations. Many injuries happen. When is summer season comes some live in tents or even in the trees. It is also Europe creating this kind of stereotype – that migrants are not civilized. These people who are coming are usualy highly educated people. Back home they had their own flats, internet, cable tv, went out to dinner in a restaurant and now they live in these conditions. Europe itself is creating stereotype.

Now back to this undercover journalist Fabrizzio Gatti I was mentioning before. We have very special situation on which Gatti reported. It is about Romanian and Polish workers. They are really held in slavery conditions. They live in compounds and never get out. They are taken by trucs to the farming place where they have to work for 12 hours. Then they are returned by trucks to the houses where they stay and they are kept there. We have people shot and killed in this situations when they rebel. This is because there is mafia interfering.

People who organize the daily work are also poor people. And poor in south Italy acctually means you have to deal with mafia in some way. Mafia arranges all this black market and all this work, illegal work and exploitation. We have poor sicilians, the commanders of 30, 50 or 100 migrants and they have to organize their work well. If you have a good person as a superior the workers might run out of time. Many migrants tell you that is ok. They didn’t expect this, they expected education, good life, some possibilities, they found out it is not like that. So they do this work. And it is better to do this work then to return to their countries where they have absolutely nothing. Even getting 35 eur a day, which means in one week we have something like 200 eur and in one month 800 eur. From these they save EUR 200 or 300 and they send this money to their families in african countries. We shall be aware of that. This people put up with this to assist their families in their countries. EUR 200 or 300 in Nigeria or some other African country you can have good living, you can survive. That’s why they are strained to do this.

So this is how it is organized. Not by two or three guys who are organized but the whole system is working on parameters that are defined by politicians. That is always the point.

So what can each of us do to change this? Individual consume is one point where everyone can work on. Inhumane work conditions existed throughout history. I remember when there was apartheid in South Africa. There was a big campaign “Don’t buy fruits from South Africa because they are bloody fruit.” We found out that Nestle is exporting the milk powder into african countries. They encouraged that women renounce breastfeeding, instead buy this expensive milk powder and give it to their children. Their children fell sick and so on. It worked out well. Nestle had to change it’s policy towards african countries.

So I think even today we can do something like this. There should be some awareness and information campaign. It is absolutely stupid that in Germany or Slovenia nobody knows what is the hidden reality behind buying sicilian tomatoes for EUR 3 a kilo. That from these EU 3 the farmers are paid 15 cents and maybe 2 cents to the collector. Maybe something can be done to change the situation if people get to know the facts.

WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE VEGETABLES EXPORTED FROM ITALY IS PICKED UP BY THESE HEAVILY EXPLOITED MIGRANT WORKERS?
99%. Spain is the same. I don’t know about greece. For France, Spain and Italy is the same.

Related:

Fabrizzio Gatti: I was a Slave in Puglia

http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/i-was-a-slave-in-puglia/1373950


Fabrizzio Gatti: I, Illegal Immigrant in Lampedusa

http://www.jrseurope.org/news_releases/OctLampedusaLifestory.pdf

 

Salad Salves: Who really provides our vegetables

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2011/feb/07/food-spain-migrants