Labour exploitation

The phenomenon of illegal gangmaster trade in Italy

At European level, the Charter of Fundamental Rights establishes the rights for workers moving within the EU or entering it, such as those governing the principles of human dignity (Article 1), the prohibition of slavery and forced labour (Article 5), professional freedom and the right to work (Article 15), non-discrimination (Article 21), fair and just working conditions (Article 31).

According to a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), economic hardship often drives people to relocate and accept lower working conditions than is locally permitted by law. The risk of exploitation is heightened by the social isolation that comes from not knowing the language of the host country, which is often a reason for ignorance of the rules governing local working conditions. A solution to this problem could be to increase workplace controls and inspections, improve systems for monitoring workplace inspections and investigations, encourage victims to report abuse, ensure access to justice for all workers, and create a climate of zero tolerance of exploitation in our societies.

Contemporary history teaches us how the struggles that took place during the so-called "hot autumn" (hot autumn is a period in the history of Italy marked by trade union struggles that developed from the autumn of 1969 in Italy) have left an indelible mark in our country in favor of workers' rights. Strikes and protests have given birth to what we know today as the "Workers' Statute" which has actually regulated the conditions of workers and the relationship between them and their employers.

A pillar of this magnitude on the rights of the working class could suggest that fifty years later the situation can only be improved. On the other hand, the continuous news stories bring to light situations of real exploitation that occur daily before our eyes.

In the Italian legal system, the crime of labour exploitation is regulated by art. 603-bis of the Criminal Code. In particular, with the introduction of this article, thanks to the so-called "manoeuvre bis" of September 14, 2011, it was intended to give voice to a widespread plague in our country: illegal gangmaster trade. This crime is called "Illegal intermediation and exploitation of labour" and is punished with imprisonment from five to eight years and a fine from one thousand to two thousand euro for each worker recruited. The criminal offence in question is perpetrated mainly in the construction and agricultural sectors.

In the case of a crime, a given company pays the "gangmaster" who provides the workforce, who profits from the difference between what he perceives from the company and what he pays the workers. The money received by the workers is clearly below the minimum threshold provided by national or territorial collective agreements entered into by trade unions and that does not allow these people to live a dignified life, making money on often non-existent safety conditions and inhumane working hours. This modern form of slavery also kills people: this is the case of Mohammed Ben Ali, one of the many agricultural workers paid by piecework or in any case not much more than 3.50 euros per hour, with lunch and transport costs borne by the worker.

A voice has been raised to try to counter this phenomenon so uncivilized in a Constitutional state as ours should be: his name is Aboubakar Soumahoro. This forty-year-old man is a sociologist and became notorious after the murder of his trade unionist comrade Soumaila Sako, whose murder is still unpunished today. Aboubakar has decided to chain himself outside Villa Pamphilj, home of the "States General" of the economy, asking to be able to speak with the Premier Conte in order to expose his points in favor of the suffering of those who are now invisible and incorporated into the exploitation racket. One of the solutions proposed by the activist would be the so-called "food license, to guarantee an ethically healthy food to people, and to free farmers and laborers from the overwhelming power of the food giants who favor the exploitation and the illegal gangmaster trade, both digital and white-collar". The idea of introducing a label stating the origin of the product and ensuring that it has not been obtained through the exploitation of workers, would allow to undermine the oligarchic policies of the Large-Scale Retail Trade, thus attacking its ability to impose its own conditions on prices and quality of products to be brought in supermarkets.

An awareness on the part of the institutions under the push of consumers could help to stem this, for now undisputed, phenomenon.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Francesca Oggiano

Sources used to edit this article:

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  • L'Autore

    Francesca Oggiano

    Mi chiamo Francesca Oggiano e sono una studentessa iscritta al corso di “Scienze Internazionali ed Istituzioni Europee” presso l’Università degli Studi di Milano.

    Da sempre la scrittura mi permette di rendere reale ciò che nasce come pensiero astratto, ed in particolare lo studio di materie giuridiche, economiche e sociali, improntate verso una visione internazionale, ha consolidato in me la necessità di voler raccontare ciò che accade nel mondo attraverso la ricerca di usi e tradizioni appartenenti a luoghi diversi e lontani dal nostro quotidiano.

    Sono venuta a conoscenza della realtà “Mondo Internazionale” e da subito mi ha incuriosita il fatto che si trattasse di ragazzi giovani impegnati a creare uno spazio che permettesse loro di credere in qualcosa di grande ed ho così deciso di voler fare anche io la mia parte.

    Insieme al meraviglioso Team che si occupa del progetto “TrattaMi Bene”, ho la possibilità di esprimermi riguardo a temi che da sempre mi appassionano e mi stanno a cuore, come i diritti umani e la violenza di genere, e che mai più di ora penso debbano essere divulgati fra le generazioni. Credo profondamente nel valore dello scambio comunicativo e sono convinta che con la forza della conoscenza e dell’informazione si possa crescere e migliorare, sia come individui che come Comunità.

    My name is Francesca Oggiano and I am currently a student of International Studies and European Institutions at the University of Milan.

    Writing has always allowed me to translate abstract thoughts into concrete realities and studying subjects like law, economics and social sciences, especially when marked by an international directory, has strengthen in me the need to tell what happens in the world through specific research of traditions belonging to places that are diverse and far from our daily life.

    I came across “Mondo Internazionale” and the fact that it involved young people engaged in creating a space that would let them believe in something greater made me curious from the very beginning; hence, I decided that I also wanted to give my contribution to this project.

    Together with the wonderful team of the “TrattaMi Bene”, I have the chance to express my ideas on themes that have always been close to my heart and that deeply interest me, such as human rights and gendered violence, and that I am certain now more than ever need to be discussed through generations. I strongly believe in the importance of communicative exchanges and I am committed to the idea that, thanks to the power of knowledge and information, one can grow and get better both as an individual and as a community.


Sections Human Rights


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