In our own shop at Dublin Food Coop our customers have grown accustomed to finding fruit
and vegetables available all year round which can’t be sourced from Ireland. Southern Europe
with its consistently warmer climate is responsible for growing a large percentage of this
produce – not just fresh, but also fruit and vegetables to be tinned and jarred.
Conditions for agricultural workers get progressively worse the further south you travel.
In southern Italy, the Mafia has control by way of the Caporalato, the middle-men who
organise the illegal employment of migrant workers. Undocumented workers are often
exploited and mistreated. These workers get paid often less than half of the minimum hourly
wage and are not protected by unions. They have no access to safe housing and often find
accommodation in shanty towns or tent camps, without electricity or running water.
Pressure on suppliers to keep
prices low is ultimately the
main cause of mistreatment
The majority of the agricultural work in Italy is done by a workforce of approximately
400,000 people. These people mostly come from African countries such as Ghana, Mali,
Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal and Burkina Faso, but also eastern European such as Romania. In
Spain the situation is no different, though organised crime seems to be less of a factor here.
Pressure on suppliers to keep prices low is ultimately the main cause of mistreatment of
workers. Supermarkets dictate a price they expect to pay for a product, and suppliers can
sign up to meet this target. The lower the price the supermarket sets, the lower the supplier
needs to keep the costs to make some sort of marginal profit. This is no different in Ireland
– the main supermarkets dictate the price of most fresh produce in the country. Often a
low price means that suppliers will need to find profit elsewhere and suffer a loss on
the cheaper product.
The Coronavirus crisis has further highlighted the dependency of agriculture on migrant
workers, and ultimately may have a positive effect on the currently dire conditions most
of these workers have to operate in. Governments and agricultural bodies are put under
pressure to actively monitor and regularly and unexpectedly check farms. We can be
cautiously optimistic that situations may improve.
Dublin Food Coop sources all fruit & vegetables not grown commercially in Ireland from
two suppliers on the mainland of Europe. We have been assured by both these suppliers
that they are in constant conversation with the farmers and farming cooperatives to
maintain that workers’ rights are met.
With regards to olives and olive oil, we have built up relationships with small scale
suppliers such as long time member Lino Olivieri in Italy (Coletta) and Nikolas
Papadopoulos in Greece (Olvia).
- The Long Read Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labour?
- ‘No food, water, masks or gloves’: migrant farm workers in Spain at crisis point