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Food firm Princes linked to inquiry into worker abuses in Italy's tomato fields

British company uses supplier currently under investigation for exploiting migrant workers who pick fruit sold in UK and 

The British food company Princes has become the latest firm linked with an investigation into labour abuses involving migrant workers who pick tomatoes in southern Italy for the plates of British and European consumers. Princes Industrie Alimentari, owned by Princes, buys tomatoes from De Rubertis, a supplier whose workers were described last October by Italian prosecutor Paola Guglielmi as labouring under "conditions of absolute exploitation".

The comments were made in the course of an investigation into the death of a seasonal labourer, Abdullah Muhammed. The 47-year-old legal Sudanese immigrant suffered a heart attack while working in the fields of Nardó, in southern Italy, in July 2015. The allegation against De Rubertis was that Muhammed's life could have been saved if he had been allowed to go to hospital.

Labour abuses listed in the court documents included working for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, without breaks, with minimal pay and no access to medical staff. Princes, owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation, is the main UK distributor of tomatoes and supplies products to France and Germany, with brands such as Napolina. In a statement to the Guardian, Princes said its own audits of the De Rubertis farm in 2016 and 2017 "did not reveal any evidence of illegality".

In October, the Guardian revealed that two Italian food companies, Conserve Italia and Mutti, were named by the Italian prosecutor as benefiting from exploitation in the country's hugely lucrative tomato industry. Conserve Italia said it immediately stopped its relationship with De Rubertis after allegations were made in the Guardian and several Italian newspapers. The company issued a statement condemning the mistreatment and exploitation of workers in today's society and has also said it will take legal action against its former supplier "to protect its interests".

Mutti said it would continue to foster a close relationship with all its suppliers and underlined both its commitment to fight "any exploitation of workers" and its push to mechanise tomato harvesting, thus reducing reliance on human labour. After the Guardian's original article about the Italian prosecutor's investigation, the three biggest Italian labour unions responded in a joint press release: "The attacks by certain press outlets against the ethics of the Italian food chain, particularly against a sector of excellence like the tomato sector, are unjustified and spurious."

 Source: The Guardian

Päivitetty/Updated: 12.01.2018




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