Aug 7, 2006
On July 18, the Italian police freed more than 100 Polish workers reduced to forced labor in the Foggia region, in the south of Italy. For at least two years, hundreds of Polish workers were thus exploited, sometimes to death, harvesting tomatoes.
According to the authorities, these Polish workers arrived in Italy after having paid $200 to $250 for their trip, on the promise of finding work paying $6.50 to $7.50 an hour, with meals and housing included.
The reality was quite different. They worked 12 to 15 hours a day, for $2.50 to $6.50 a day’s pay. They were forcibly kept in camps without water or electricity, sleeping on mattresses on the ground and were watched over by armed guards with dogs. When they got sick, the workers had to pay a “fine” of $25 for each day not worked. They were super-exploited, beaten and underfed, to the point that four of them died, perhaps pushed to suicide, killed or succumbed to exhaustion.
This situation continued for more than two years. The police only reacted when they heard from worried families in Poland, who hadn’t heard from them. Even if it was a Mafia network which established the slave camp, the boss of a farm in the city of Orta Nova profited from it without batting an eyelid! The Italian social security agency remarked that inspections it carried out on farms during the first five months of 2006 showed that 77% of the farms visited were underpaying farm workers, while working them more than 10 hours a day, with indecent living conditions. The main victims of these modern day slave drivers are women and immigrants without papers.
The Foggia slave camp may be extreme. But super-exploitation imposed on workers in the most precarious situations remains widespread – and not only in Italy.