In the Province of Latina in the Lazio region of Central Italy, a community of around 30,000 Indians, mostly Sikhs, work as agricultural day labourers. They live on the fringe of a system that marginalizes and pushes them into sectors where they fall prey to exploitation.
This “invisible” population, denied of basic human rights, is growing and significantly impacting some sectors of the economy.
Their conditions are symptomatic of this kind of labour exploitation, akin to slavery. Many of these migrants are also victims of international human trafficking and illegal recruitment. They work 14 hours a day, seven days a week and are paid around €4.50/hour. Payments are often delayed for months, and sometimes never received. Violence, beatings and accidents at work aren’t often reported and those who try to react are easily fired.
Exploitation is a permanent feature of much of the agricultural economy in Italy. It is worth highlighting that farmers using migrant labour are also suppliers of the international markets.
The salads, tomatoes and courgettes picked by Sikh farmworkers are transported to one of Europe’s largest vegetable markets in Fondi, a city in the Lazio region. From there, they are sold throughout Italy and exported to other European countries.
The exploitation of irregular workers allows large farm owners to increase profit margins and force their competitors out of the market, especially local small-scale farmers.
Migrant seasonal and day labourers often live in precarious conditions. They frequently become targets of xenophobia and violent attacks by the local population, who blame them for the sanitary conditions of their settlements. These human rights abuses are of the utmost severity, especially those that violate the rights to adequate housing and decent work.
During the lockdown, in the Agro Pontino countryside, greenhouse production and the exploitation of migrant workers has never stopped in the general silence of a country that has decided not to consider them if not as useful arms to produce agricultural products purchased by the Italians at the time of the coronavirus. For the sake of these workers, we can no longer claim we are shocked. We must act in order to end the abuse.