‘An important tool to foster positive change’: ‘Princes expands migrant worker scheme to support victims of modern slavery

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Princes
Image: Princes

Related tags Slavery Human rights Modern slavery

Napolina-owner Princes Group is continuing efforts to support migrant workers impacted by labour exploitation via a partnership with Casa Sankara, a voluntary association based in southern Italy that provides support to migrant workers who have faced exploitation.

Through the partnership, Princes has hired and trained 32 migrant workers living in vulnerable conditions, who will work across a variety of roles at the group’s Foggia-based tomato processing facility during the 2023 harvest season.

Casa Sankara aims to foster social inclusion and enhance living conditions for victims of modern slavery in Italy, where migrant workers continue to face exploitation practices driven by illegal ‘gangmasters’ known as Caporale – a form of illegal intermediation that exploits migrant workers, violates minimum wage requirements and imposes often inhumane working conditions.

Casa Sankara was founded and continues to be operated by migrant workers who have also faced exploitation in the past. It is committed to providing an alternative to individuals living in ghettos – offering accommodation, basic personal services, administrative support and regular work opportunities.

This collaboration represents an expansion of Princes Group’s migrant worker scheme, Lavoro Senza Frontiere, established in 2018 with local charity, Caritas. This scheme was launched with an initial hire of four migrants, still with the company today, and continues to expand with nine employees currently enrolled across various departments, from agronomy through to labelling. 

The initiative was created to promote ethical working conditions throughout the Italian tomato supply chain, helping to generate a positive impact for the community of the Apulian tomato district - the Capitanata - and for the entire region.

David McDiarmid, Corporate Relations Director at Princes, said: “We have always believed that the future of the Italian tomato supply chain lies in advancing economic, environmental and social sustainability, with a focus on protecting workers by creating decent employment opportunities and offering fair pay. This is critical in addressing long-standing issues of illegal labour and exploitation practices across the sector, which Princes has openly faced into over many years.

“Transforming our supply chain and evolving historical ways of working in southern Italy has required significant investment, a commitment to advancing equality and social inclusion, and most importantly – the collaboration of all players across the industry. This new partnership with Casa Sankara is a prime example of how we’re working with organisations to achieve shared goals and demonstrates how joint action is generating concrete benefits for local communities.”

Mbaye Ndiaye, a representative from Casa Sankara, added: “The start of this partnership with Princes makes it possible for young migrant workers who have previously been exploited, to forge a new path aligned with their interests and abilities, but also desires and plans for personal fulfillment. For us, this collaboration is another important tool to foster positive change.”

100% of workers have written contracts and found work legally

Princes recently launched its 2023 tomato harvest season during an event held at its tomato processing facility – the largest of its kind in Europe. Oxfam Italia, which works with Princes to monitor and evaluate its ethical and human rights initiatives in the region, presented the results of its first survey – conducted during the 2022 harvest into living and working conditions across the Group’s tomato supply chain. The survey highlighted that 100% of workers in the Group’s supply chain have written contracts and found work legally, without the involvement of intermediaries. Additionally, over 90% of workers said they are satisfied with the pay they receive, which covers the costs of food, housing and transport for themselves and their families.

Giorgia Ceccarelli, Policy Advisor on Business and Human Rights at Oxfam Italy, said: “The assessment and prevention of any violation of human rights is a non-negotiable aspect of doing business correctly and sustainably today. This is why we were pleased to support Princes in developing and conducting a survey on the living and working conditions of farm workers employed during the tomato harvest. This goes beyond a standard audit, to provide the company with an up-to-date snapshot of the dynamics and needs of the workforce in the field, helping to enhance and identify new actions to tackle the risks of exploitation in the sector. The focus now is to strengthen collaboration between all actors in the supply chain to agree plans and objectives and create positive change as early as the next harvest season.”

Various indicatives to stamp out labour abuses in its supply chain

Princes has rolled out various initiatives to stamp out labour abuses in its supply chain. For one, it is leveraging blockchain developments to improve traceability and communicate its sourcing story to customers and consumers. 

In 2018 Princes announced its intention that 100% of the tomatoes processed from its Italian supply chain would come from farms with independent ethical accreditation, through either Global GAP with GRASP assessment or SA8000 certification. Global GAP is the worldwide standard for agricultural practice and GRASP is a voluntary, ready-to-use module, developed to assess social practices on farms, including workers’ health, safety and welfare, contracts, wages and freedom of representation.

Beyond accreditation, since 2013 Princes has held ‘several ethical forums for suppliers in Italy’ to raise awareness. These events have attracted delegates from UK and European retailers, political stakeholders and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).

Earlier this year, Princes continued to lead the industry in signing pre-harvest tomato supply contracts in southern Italy – guaranteeing fair pricing and enhanced financial stability for around 300 Apulian producers in 2023. At the start of July, no other growers in southern Italy had visibility of 2023 pricing, with the harvest season fast approaching. Seasonal labour is one of the few areas a grower can try to reduce costs during harvest season, making the services of illegal gangmasters an appealing option if there are concerns about the profitability of a crop. Princes has been working with Italian agricultural union, Coldiretti, since 2019 to provide financial stability to growers through guaranteed three-year supply contracts across 30 partner cooperatives.

It has also completed what it claims is a first-of-its-kind Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) into pulses from Argentina – taking a major step forward in evolving its approach to human rights due diligence and supply chain transparency.

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