Tomato workers fight exploitation by making their own sauce in Apulia

Tomato workers fight exploitation by making their own sauce in Apulia


They work 12 hours a day under the sun, sometimes until they collapse from exhaustion. They live by the thousands in makeshift camps or packed together in crumbling ghettos, just beyond the fields where the best “Made in Italy” fruit and vegetables are grown. They are mostly foreign seasonal workers, because exploitation can travel hand in hand with the phenomenon of migrant traffic. But there are also Italian day laborers such as Paola Clemente from San Giorgio Jonico, who died while she was working in the fields for two euros ($2.40) an hour.

The unwritten rules laid down by the recruiters of the agromafia (mafia in the agricultural sector) are more or less the same for everyone: no contract, a salary somewhere between 22 and 30 euros ($25 to $35) a day – less than half the legal minimum wage, as well as violence, blackmail, and abuse such as confiscation of papers. Work gloves are sold at an exorbitant price, and food and transport is forcibly sold to workers, under threat of dismissal.

Enter SfruttaZero, a tomato sauce company that seeks to create a “clean supply chain,” from sowing seeds to processing the fruit, without exploiting workers. Activists from Diritti a Sud (Rights in the South) and Solidaria work with a group of legally registered and paid migrants. SfruttaZero operates in the countryside of Puglia, the region worst hit by illegal employment. “Farming fields without exploitation is possible, and that’s…

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