According to a newly-released report from watchdog organisation DanWatch, two out of every three imported cans of tomatoes sold in Denmark come from Italy, where illegal migrants work long hours with no contract and very low pay.
Some 400,000 migrant workers – primarily young men who come to southern Europe from north and west African countries – pluck tomatoes in Italy without a contract. They receive an average hourly wage of just €3 (22 kroner, $3.70) compared to an average wage of €8.20 for legally-employed workers and many of them are recruited by gang leaders and live in constant fear of their employers.
“They are very scared and won’t talk about it with anyone. They live in sheds and barracks and shantytowns that exist solely of immigrants,” Louise Voller, the co-author of DanWatch's 'The backside of the tomato can: Gross exploitation and illegal manpower in Danish canned tomatoes', told broadcaster DR.
Migrant workers told DanWatch that they can only find work through gang leaders known as ‘Caporali’, who they must pay in exchange for being delivered to Italian farmers.
Canned tomatoes from Italy bring in 130 million kroner a year in Denmark, but the sales may violate UN laws.
“The UN has defined guidelines for human rights and for trade so when these kinds of conditions are discovered, the supermarkets have a responsibility [...] when they find that the working conditions in Italy negatively impact migrant workers’ rights in relation to rest, free time and salary,” Sune Skadegaard Thorsen, the head of consulting firm Global CSR, told DR.
After the release of DanWatch’s report, two major supermarket companies – Coop and Dansk Supermarked, who between them operate nearly all of the major supermarkets in Denmark – said they would bring up the workers’ conditions with their Italian suppliers.
“We will take it up with our suppliers and will stress the importance of all tomatoes coming from responsible producers,” Mads Hvitved Grand, a spokesman for Dansk Supermarked, told DR.
Dansk Supermarked operates the supermarket chains Netto, Bilka and Føtex. Its main competitor Coop, which operates the Kvickly, Super Brugsen, Irma and Fakta chains, also said it would push its Italian partners.
“It’s a long, long haul for us. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t try. Quite the contrary,” company spokeswoman Ulla Riber told DR.
Thorsen said the Danish companies need to get tough with the Italians.
“At the end of the day, the chains need to say: ‘If we cannot sell tomatoes that are produced under acceptable conditions, then we will pull out.’ They have a responsibility to deliver a product that was made under proper conditions,” he said.