Saturday, September 03, 2011


Sure, I love my MAC.  I am supposed to say that, aren't I?  What I don't love is what Apple is doing to the environment and the  people of China.  What I don't like is their inability to say anything about it.  What I do know is that although Apple has wonderful customer service for the likes of me, it is still just one more big corporation in a global tangle of Capital that is destroying the EARTH with impunity and with no shame.

In January Apple admitted that workers in its supply chain had suffered injuries and the like.  It made no mention of environmental damages, and according to Chinese environmentalist nothing has changed since then.  Environmental investigator Ma Jun in an interview recently said, "Apple’s behaviour hasn't improved at all. It has admitted there are issues in its supply chain, but it hasn’t made any adjustments to its policy, maintaining that “it is our long-term policy not to disclose supplier information” and ignoring questions from environmental groups. Injured workers wrote to Apple three times, but got no response at all."  He added, "Personally I feel that the “black box” audits aren’t doing any good. Under cover of those audits, Apple is able to use polluting companies as suppliers, at the cost of China’s environment and public health, and make excessive profits. On this point, Apple hasn’t changed at all. If there has been any change, it’s been that it has grown even bigger in scale – its size in China now would have been unimaginable before. "

Maybe we all should call customer service and ask them about all this.

Check out the article below from China Dialogue.


Meng Si

August 31, 2011

In an investigative report, Chinese green NGOs claim that the consumer electronics giant has not addressed problems in its supply chain and ignored an expanding environmental footprint in China – with grave consequences. Meng Si reports.


“During the investigation Zhu Guifen, a villager who had suffered stomach cancer, held a bottle filled with polluted water as she and around a dozen older villagers unexpectedly knelt in front of the NGO workers and begged for help.”
Severe pollution in Apple’s Chinese supply chain is poisoning the environment and threatening public health, a coalition of green campaigners said today as it published the results of a seven-month investigation into the IT giant’s China operations. In the latest phase of their campaign to get the leading US brand to confront pollution caused by manufacturers of laptop and smartphone components, the Chinese NGOs said they have found problems at as many as 27 suspected Apple suppliers – but the corporation has failed to respond openly to questions and make its supplier information public.
The report, The Other Side of Apple II – Pollution Spreads through Apple’s Supply Chain [pdf], includes findings from 10 on-site investigations of suppliers, suspected suppliers and other links in the supply chain. These include: Meiko Electronics of Guangzhou, Meiko Electronics of Wuhan, Kaedar Electronics and Unimicron, Foxconn of Taiyuan, Ibiden Electronics of Beijing and Shenzhen Municipal Hazardous Waste Treatment Station. The publication is the second update this year on the results of an ongoing investigation into the social and environmental impacts of Apple’s suppliers fronted by environmentalist Ma Jun (the first was published in January).
Launching the report in Beijing, the NGOs behind the campaign – Friends of Nature, the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), Green Beagle, Envirofriends and Nanjing Green Stone – said they had uncovered cases of severe environmental damage and serious complaints from local communities. According to the report, some of the suspected Apple suppliers produce huge quantities of dangerous waste, which they seem unable to deal with.
Meiko Electronics of Wuhan, central China, is a printed circuit board manufacturing subsidiary of Japanese firm Meiko Electronics. Its major customers include Apple, Motorola and Siemens. In April 2011, staff from IPE and Friends of Nature’s Wuhan branch went to investigate pollution at the plant. They found a 150-metre ditch running from the east side of the facility to Nantaizi Lake, filled with a milky-white liquid. For a stretch of several dozen metres, the water of Nantaizi was a grey-white colour, covered with white foam and dark floating objects. This polluted water flows directly into the Yangtze River.
In June, lawyer Zeng Xiangbin from Friends of Nature’s Wuhan branch and the Pony Testing Company analysed a sample of liquid from the ditch. Chemical oxygen demand (a measure of water pollution) was 192 milligrams per litre: 4.8 times the Category V standard for surface water quality – the worst category – indicating the water is unsafe for use for any purpose. Nantaizi Lake fish farmer Wan Zhengyou said: “My generation is drinking polluted water; the next will have only poisoned water to drink.”
Kaedar Electronics and Kunshan Unimicron Electronics are located in the Jiangsu city of Kunshan, in eastern China. According to media reports, the former is an Apple supplier and the latter is a suspected supplier. In April 2011, staff from IPE and Nanjing Green Stone visited the area. Locals told them that the foul-smelling gases from the plant sometimes left them unable to open their windows and woke them up at night. Eight-year-old Tong Haiyi said to the investigators: “Sometimes when I come back and study I get a really sore chest, and when [my mother comes] to pick me up I feel really dizzy. And sometimes there’s a really strange smell in class.” His mother told the team that he often suffered from headaches, dizziness and nosebleeds.
Unit 8 of Tongxin village is on the other side of the factory wall. Residents there produced a list of local people suffering from cancer. Since 2007, unit 8 has seen nine people out of a population of around 50 contract the disease. Locals said that over the past decade, the once clear stream by the village has turned black as ink: for years, the electronics firms have discharged waste water and gas and created noise pollution. The villagers have tried to talk to the factory, but could not gain access; they spoke to the local government, but the firm always seemed to have advance information about testing – the bad smells usually cleared up just before an inspection began.
During the investigation Zhu Guifen, a villager who had her stomach removed due to cancer, held a bottle filled with polluted water as she and around a dozen older villagers unexpectedly knelt in front of the NGO workers and begged for help.
Apple supplier Foxconn became the focus of global attention last year after a spate of worker suicides. The new report claims that three of its factories have broken environmental rules. On May 20, an explosion at Foxconn’s Hongfujin Chengdu factory – which manufactures the iPad2 – killed three workers and injured 15. It subsequently came to light that the plant's eight buildings, covering 250 mu (more than 166,000 square metres) had been constructed in only 76 days. According to the report, this rate of construction poses serious challenges for controlling pollution and ensuring safety. There are questions about how the company could have cleared Apple’s auditing process, which is led by one of its vice-presidents.
The investigators claim that, despite the information provided by the NGOs on environmental problems at as many as 27 suspected Apple suppliers, the US firm did not respond to a single pollution incident in its 2011 Supplier Responsibility Report. Its only nod to questions from environmental groups was to admit that Wintek, where workers suffered n-hexane poisoning when cleaning iPhone touch-screens, was a supplier.
The latest NGO report accuses Apple of failing to respond openly to questions and make its supplier information public. It argues that, while this type of behaviour used to be standard among international companies – who chose suppliers on price and could ignore environmental performance, often claiming they had little information to rely on – practices have changed as greater transparency in China has increased access to environmental data. Many companies now use that information to prevent pollution from their global manufacturing base.
Despite specific allegations about its suppliers, the report says that Apple remains evasive and sticks to the line that its non-disclosure of supplier information is a long-term policy. Many records of breaches by IT suppliers are already public – but, say the green groups, Apple refuses to address the problems and appears to continue using polluting firms as suppliers. The first part of the report in January claimed to reveal pollution and exposure to toxins in Apple’s supply chain, yet the NGOs say that today Apple still has not responded to their questions.
Over the past year, environmental groups have urged 29 Chinese and foreign IT companies to improve supervision of their supply chains, and the vast majority have shown that they appreciate the importance of the task. For example, the report lists mobile phone company Nokia as one brand that uses publicly available data to help prevent pollution being caused by its global manufacturing chain.
Some argue that multinationals do not have the ability to oversee the environmental performance of firms they outsource work to. But this report claims that the kind of procurement carried out by Apple and similar brands does not allow for this excuse – Apple is closely involved with management of its supply chain, from the use of materials to its control of dust-free environments for production processes. Therefore, the groups argue that Apple has a responsibility to reveal and explain how much impact that involvement has on pollution and public health.
Figures from the China Household Electronic Appliance Association show that around one half of all computers, mobile phones and digital cameras are made in China. The electronics manufacturing industry is a source of heavy-metal pollution and globalisation has led to the rapid relocation of much of that industry to China. The drive for profit and weak government supervision means the industry can create grave pollution problems. One fifth of China’s arable land has already been polluted by heavy metals. The latest report from green NGOs is one more reason to feel pessimistic about the future.

Meng Si is managing editor in chinadialogue’s Beijing office

Friday, September 02, 2011


I know next to nothing at all about this. I can tell you that lots of protesters have been gathered north of Broome in Australia's west since June 7, calling on the Federal and State governments to stop  clearing works at the site of the proposed $30 billion natural gas hub.  I can tell you the protesters are indigenous and non indigenous.  I can tell you that sevral times they have taken directr action and numerous of them have been arrested.  I can tell you that aboriginal protesters are invoking the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights to try and stop land clearing.  I can tell you the area is one of the last great wilderness areas still protected in Australia and that it is now threatened by by multi-billion dollar gas and large-scale industrial development proposals.  

Anything else you will have to find out by yourself.

What you will read below comes from Shell to Sea.

Battle Lines are Laid Over Pristine Kimberley

 Richard Bradley - The Epoch Times
The red pindan dust and a classic golden Kimberley sunset belied a sombre scene up on the Dampier Peninsula a few weeks back. Through the red-stained stillness could be heard the collective voices of 80 black-clad riot police chanting “hut, hut, hut” beneath the roaring of the mining plant and cries of protest from the land’s traditional owners.
The scene was James Price Point on the first day of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week in Australia. Unfolding events seemed stunningly in conflict with a day honouring Aboriginalculture.
Earlier that morning, police had arrested traditional owners from the Manari Road as they tried to protect their country from Woodside bulldozers. Later that afternoon, after most of the media covering the event had returned to Broome, the 80 strong WA state riot squad forced their way through several hundred protesters, with Woodside contractors in tow.
When the dust cleared, the plant was rolling off into the sunset to begin clearing country, while the traditional owners and concerned citizens sat on the roadside with tears of anger and wonderment.
Was this Australia? Did this really just happen? Did State Government forces just walk and drive over Australian citizens in a bid to further the pursuit of a private corporation? You could be forgiven for thinking the scene was from a third world nation.
The fight to save the Dampier Peninsula on the West Kimberley coastline has escalated from opaque agreements between politicians, CEOs and the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) into full-on conflict.

Talks Break Down

A year ago, a myriad of players were involved, including Indigenous, environmental, political, corporate and local community groups. The State Government consultation focused on trying to reach an Indigenous land use agreement.
But when talks stalled, State Premier Colin Barnett began the process of compulsory acquisition.
At this point, a massive schism arose in the Indigenous community. Families were split as traditional owners chose sides. The KLC and their chief negotiator, Wayne Bergman, chose to accept the State Government deal after a vote that was sparsely attended by fewer than 300 Aborigines, when more than 1200 claimants could have been present, according to lawyers.
Wayne Barker, another Indigenous negotiator for the KLC, called it “negotiating with a gun to our head”, SBS reported.
In the Broome community, many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people came to believe Premier Barnett was more interested in mining the Kimberley than in helping Indigenous culture, Aborigines and their communities.
This had a galvanising effect, as previously indifferent or undecided members of the community began to stand up. They went public with their questions about the process that had led to this gas plant deal and that had created the perception that all Aborigines thought it was a good thing.

Significant Alternatives

Today, the streets of Broome are festooned with “No Gas” signs, leaving no doubt as to what the majority of Broome residents feel about the James Price Point proposal.
The Broome Community understands that development is inevitable. The feeling up here is that most local people have not been consulted and do not feature in the State Government’s plans despite their business and personalinvestment in the region over several generations.
The opposition to the hub is not an opposition to development. It is an opposition to the type of development that is being proposed and the way it is being engineered as a fait accompli, with no room to consider alternatives.
There are two significant alternatives to bringing the gas ashore in the Kimberley.
The use of floating LNG (FLNG) production technology to process the gas offshore on floating production tankers is used throughout the world in areas of environmental or political sensitivity. Shell has recently confirmed the use of FNLG technology to process its prelude field located in the Browse Basin.
Another alternative is piping the gas to existing infrastructure on the NW Shelf and into the Pilbara. This is a much favoured alternative and has been documented by JP Morgan and Citi to be a more cost effective alternative favoured by many of the shareholders.
However, the alternatives have not featured highly in the argument, because it is widely believed that the onshore gas plant at James Price Point will act as the thin edge of the wedge to open up and develop the vast resources of the Kimberley.
There is little doubt in people’s minds that Premier Barnett intends to industrialise the Kimberley. Uranium, bauxite, coal, copper, diamonds, gold and iron ore are all found in abundance through the vast untouched wilderness of the Kimberley.
He has said: “The Pilbara has supported Western Australia for the last 50 years; the Kimberley will support it for the next 50,” according to ABC.

Continued Conflict

Today, and every day since that fateful Tuesday in early July, out on the Manari Road, the “front line” plays out its conflict. On one side is a diverse group of traditional owners, environmentalists, scientists, professional protestors and concerned citizens. On the other is a convoy of out-of-town rental cars loaded with ex-SAS security contractors and a workforce intent on clearing land and drilling the proposed site.
There is much discussion about the legality of what is occurring, with no environmental approvals yet passed from either State or Federal governments and several major breaches to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, of which Australia is a signatory.
The hope for the future of James Price Point now lies in two key decisions.
The first decision is to be made by The Hon Tony Burke, Minister for Environment and Sustainability, at the end of this month regarding the National Heritage listing of the Kimberley. This may include the Dampier Peninsula, making Woodside’s and the State Government’s plans much more difficult to push through.
The second and most important decision will be the final investment decision from the joint venture partners, including Woodside, Shell and BHP, due mid- to late 2012. This will be the green or red light.
With widespread opposition, including the contesting of Premier Barnett’s compulsory acquisition in the High Court and the recent arrival of international environmental groups such as The Wilderness Society and Greenpeace, the fight is far from over.

Police and local Broome residents confront each other at a protest over the mining development planned for WA James Price Point. (Kate Sutton)


Take a look at the picture inside the article below.  You tell me.  What do you see.  I'll tell you what I see.  I see a bunch of dopes who think a heritage of slavery and brutality, rape and murder is worth memorializing.  Give me a break.

The following comes from something called Opposing Views.

Protesters Defend Confederate Flag in Virginia, "Part of Our Heritage"
By Michael Allen on Sep 2, 2011

The Sons of Confederate Veterans protested yesterday against plans to limit Confederate flags on downtown poles in Lexington, Virginia, where Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson are buried.

In January, the city received hundreds of complaints when Confederate flags were planted on light poles to mark Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday. That's when the city decided to have rules governing the flying of flags on light poles, said city leader T. Jon Ellestad.

Many of the complaints are apparently coming from college students in the town of 7,000. However, confederate flag defenders have argued that the flag, which was carried by the pro-slavery south during the Civil War, is “part of their heritage.”

 Demonstrators from the Sons of Confederate Veterans take part in a rally against plans to limit use of the Confederate flag

Philip Way, who attended the Sons of Confederate Veterans rally with 100 others, said: “I am a firm believer in the freedom to express our individual rights, which include flying the flag that we decide to fly. That's freedom to me.”

Mimi Knight, who was not part of the protest, said: “These are the things that make Lexington what it is. The Confederate flag is part of our heritage.”

This is not the first time Lexington has clashed with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The city attempted nearly 20 years ago to ban the display of the Confederate flag during a parade honoring Jackson.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully defended the Sons of Confederate Veterans' right  to carry the flag, is watching this current controversy. “The city council could live to regret this ordinance, as it imposes unusually restrictive limits on the use of the light poles,' said Kent Willis, the ACLU's executive director in Virginia.

The 13 stars on the Confederate flag represent the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri.
(Photos by Roanoke Times/AP)

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Global Capital is eliminating the significance of national borders, but not so much in a good way.  As millions of the multitudes are on the move around the world trying to find a way to live, it turns out more often then not is that all they find is another way to die.  Yes, the Empire opens its doors to all races, creeds, religions, what have you and isn't it swell.  What is happening to these marginalized and migrant workers in Italy is nothing out of the ordinary today and whatchya gonna do about it?

And I didn't even mention the children of tomato pickers in the USA whose children are being born with birth defects of all kinds thanks to their mothers' unwanted exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

But what else is new?

The following is from the Ecologist.

Scandal of the 'tomato slaves' harvesting crop exported to UK

Andrew Wasley

Across Italy an invisible army of migrant workers harvests tomatoes destined for our dinner plates. Paid poverty wages and living in squalor, medical charities have described conditions as 'hell'. Andrew Wasley reports from Basilicata, southern Italy

tomato slaves
Southern Italy's tomato fields are blighted by exploitation of
migrant workers (Photo:Beatrice Crippa Muti/Flai-Cgil)

In the parched countryside outside the town of Venosa, in Basilicata, southern Italy, along a rough track fifteen minutes' drive from the nearest road, you come to a series of ruined farmhouses. Overgrown and run down, the brickwork crumbling, and surrounded by the detritus of poverty – rubbish, abandoned water butts, washing draped out of windows, dogs roaming – at first glance it's difficult to believe anyone lives here.  

The slums are in fact home to several hundred migrant workers about to harvest the region's abundant tomato crop. Every August, thousands of itinerants, mostly from Africa, some from Eastern Europe, descend on southern Italy to scratch a living picking tomatoes that will eventually be processed and exported across Europe – including to the UK – to be sold in tins, or as pastes, purees or passatas, or used as an ingredient in other food products.   

But an Ecologist investigation has revealed how the lucrative trade is blighted by exploitation and abuse: workers – some of them illegal immigrants – are forced to toil for up to 14 hours a day picking tomatoes in harsh conditions for meagre wages, frequently under the control of a network of gangmasters who make excessive deductions or charge inflated rates for transport, accommodation, food and other 'services'. Those complaining can face violence and intimidation. 

Workers frequently live in appalling squalor: home is often a derelict building without power or any form of effective sanitation. As many as thirty people can be crammed into a single, filthy, one floor house. Healthcare is virtually non-existent and contact with the outside world minimal.     

So bad are the living and working conditions endured by the migrants that campaigners have dubbed them 'Europe's tomato slaves'. 

Most seek out the precarious employment in order to send money to family back home, but find themselves caught up in a brutal spiral of poverty and exploitation. Unable to save sufficiently to transfer any money – or pay for a flight out of Europe – the workers become trapped and are forced to seek out similarly low paid and back-breaking work harvesting oranges, lemons, olives or strawberries in order to survive. 

Human rights groups and unions say as many 50,000 migrant workers could be affected, toiling in the agricultural regions of Puglia, Basilicata and Campania, amongst others. The figure could be much higher as many migrants are thought to be in the country illegally. 

Conditions are so poor that the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – more usually associated with providing medical aid in conflict zones – has sent mobile clinics to treat migrants in some areas, and issued a scathing report describing the workers' experiences as 'hell'. 

Suffering and squalor

Those living in the first house the Ecologist visited didn't want to talk. There had been rumours of television cameras coming, and – in a clear sign many were in Italy without visas – fears that the 'authorities' could be conducting inspections. One man refuses to look up from gutting the carcass of an unknown animal that’s hanging from the shack's roof. 

Further down the track there is another, almost identical, building. A dozen young African men are gathered around; some smoking, some lounging in the stifling Italian heat. These guys are happier to talk: this house is 'home' to fifteen migrants at present, mostly from West Africa –  countries such as Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Ghana. 

There's no running water or electricity. The men appear to sleep communally on mattresses spread out across the stone floor. The workers cook, wash and shit outdoors (there's no toilets here; as we left one worker was squatting just yards from the house). The tomato harvest begins in late  August in Basilicata; when it does, these men will be joined in the house by up to fifteen more workers. They say it will be so overcrowded that some will have to sleep outside. 

The men tell us they are here for one thing: to work. Some had been in Italy for several months, some for several years. Most had no idea of when – or how – they'll return home. When not harvesting tomatoes they might be picking oranges or other fruit, or might go back to Naples, where much of Italy's itinerant workforce dwells when not actively harvesting. Some migrants beg on the city's streets. 

Asked whether this what he expected to find when he set out for Italy, one worker, Joseph, from Ghana, tells us: 'It's not what we expected to find that matters, but what we found,' gesturing at the surroundings. 

Another migrant, Armel, from Birkina Fasa, says 'It's not better here [than Africa], we're not used to this type of work.' He says it's not easy to send money home as prices [paid for work] are very low – and they have to buy food and other items for everyday living. 'Every harvest is the same, the orange harvest is even worse... there's too many people for the work [available]'. 

Daniel, also from Birkina Fasa, tells us that once the harvest gets underway in the coming days, he expects to spend between ten and twelve hours a day in the exposed tomato fields, picking by hand; bending, plucking and carrying the filled crates. The work is arduous, repetitive and hot. The temperature can reach 40C degrees. 

Contracts are non-existent for most tomato pickers. The migrants are paid on a piece-rate system based on the amount of tomatoes successfully harvested. Although it can vary from location to location, Daniel, Armel and Joseph can expect to earn between 20 -30 Euros (£17 - £26) per day – the current going 'rate' – depending on the number of crates picked. The crates are heavy, holding as many as 350 kg of tomatoes when full. 

'But there's only enough work for three days [per week]', Daniel says. 'The other days are spent here.' This means, in practice, that some workers here could earn no more than 51 Euros (£45) per week. And that's before a gangmaster has taken his cut or workers have paid for essential items. 

Strict hierarchy 

In common with seasonal horticultural operations across Europe – and the US – gangmasters are central to Italy’s tomato harvest. They broker deals with farmers and producers, and supply the workforce, as well as providing transport, organising accommodation, food, water and other essentials for the workers. 

The relationship between gangmasters and producers in Italy is complex with a strict hierarchy governing those involved in the supply of seasonal labour. In many cases an Italian gangmaster, known as a capo bianco (white chief), will approach a tomato farmer, or collection of farmers, to establish a business relationship. They will then agree the quantity of land to be harvested, and negotiate an overall price and the number of workers needed. 

The capo bianco will then typically instruct one of a number of other gangmasters he manages – usually a foreign national from a country that is home to migrant workers; these are known as capo neros (black chiefs) – to physically recruit and manage the required workforce. 

The capo nero usually lives alongside workers, but doesn't actively take part in the harvest, instead ensuring the correct number of migrants are delivered to the fields, providing their transport, accommodation, food and water, and paying the wages.  

Some deduct money from wages upfront for workers' food, accommodation and transport. Others charge for these essentials after they've been paid. Other 'services' and supplies must also be paid for – charging a mobile phone, organising clean drinking water, supplying a bike – with many enterprising gangmasters ensuring they take a cut on each sale. Often, a capo nero will take the first crate of tomatoes picked in a day as additional payment for his services.  

A capo nero is present when the Ecologist visits. He's unrecognisable apart from being marginally better dressed than his peers, and being one of few who say they've managed to return home – in his case Ivory Coast – since arriving in Italy. His presence means these workers are nervous about openly discussing financial details, although one young migrant complains that 'too much money' is sometimes charged for basic items. 

Intimidation and violence

Relations between gangmasters and workers frequently break down as resentment over exploitative practices spills over; in recent years there have been regular reports of intimidation and violent attacks on workers who have spoken out, according to campaigners. 

Union officials told the Ecologist they are currently concerned about the whereabouts of one African migrant who had been living in the Venosa area after it became known he had written a letter complaining about poor conditions. And in the Lecce region of Puglia (another hotspot for migrant labour) seasonal workers have recently complained about poor treatment by gangmasters and are currently 'striking' in protest. 

In a groundbreaking investigation for 'L'espresso in 2006, Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti first revealed how African and Eastern European migrant workers harvesting tomatoes in Puglia were frequently threatened, beaten up and racially abused by gangmasters and farm owners. 

In one disturbing incident, a Romanian worker was allegedly savagely beaten by a gangmaster before being left to die – he was later secretly fed by fellow workers and eventually taken to hospital where, after a major operation, he was handed over to police for deportation. 

He was lucky to have received treatment at all.  MSF has reported that many immigrant workers employed in southern Italy's tomato and citrus fruit harvests have been turned away from hospitals whilst seeking treatment, and that others, without permission to be in Italy,  have been too afraid to access medical attention for fear of being reported. 

The organisation, which has documented disturbing patterns of poor health amongst migrant workers, including skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, became so alarmed by conditions that it provided mobile health clinics and other humanitarian assistance to workers in several regions, including Basilicata.     

Although the situation in Basilicata is poor, campaigners says conditions are worse – and the scale of the problem even greater – in Puglia, in the Foggia and Lecce regions in particular. It’s estimated that there are as many as 15,000 migrant workers in Foggia, around 2,000 in Lecce. When the Ecologist visited Baslicata the figures were much lower, less than a 1,000, although that number is expected to swell as the harvest begins in earnest.   

Gervasio Ungolo, from the advocacy group Osservatorio Migranti, which works to improve conditions for migrant communities, says that although many of the tomato workers are in Italy legally – he estimates around 80 per cent, with the remainder in the country illegally – conditions are so poor and the future so bleak that many migrants simply despair. 'They reach the bottom of the scale, the bottom of the barrel,' he says 'they lose all self respect.' 

Workers interviewed near Venosa concur: 'The situation in Africa is not so good, but the basis is still respect; not here... here there is no respect', says Armel.  Another migrant, Raul, tells us: 'We want to go back to Africa, we need people to help us go home. Life should be better... this is not life.' 

As we leave, two of the younger migrants approach discreetly. Despite insisting that they are in Italy, and thus Europe, legally, they want to know whether it's possible to reach the UK and work unofficially: 'how do you get there? do you need paperwork? is it possible to work without a passport? is the work better than here?'         

Keeping costs down

Few Italian tomato farmers will freely admit to employing migrant workers despite it being an 'open secret' within the industry. One grower interviewed by the Ecologistacknowledged however that the practice was common, particularly when weather conditions are poor and machines (increasingly being used by larger farms to mechanically harvest) cannot operate.   

The farmer, Giovanni Lagana, based near the Basilicatan town of Lavello – a major hub for tomato growing – says that foreign workers have been employed during the Basilicata tomato harvest for years. 'Twenty years ago, in the beginning, they were from North Africa, now it's Central or Western Africa,' he says. 'Tunisian students came to train and learn the harvest.'

He says the migrant workers he uses are 80 per cent African, 20 per cent Eastern European – Italians apparently don't want to do the work – and that all are supplied by a gangmaster. 'It's necessary [to use gangmasters] so I don't have to talk to forty people, just one, to arrange the work. They say “how many workers do you need?”, we negotiate the price for a box, it's a guarantee for the workers and farmers – they take care of everything.'

Lagana, who cultivates up to 900 tonnes of tomatoes each season, some of which are supplied to major processing companies for export and sale as tinned tomatoes overseas, says there is an economic imperative to keep costs, including labour costs, down: 'The price we have now in 2011 [for tomatoes] is the same as 30 years ago, but the [production] costs have risen.'

The farmer says tomato growers are under acute pressure as plants, irrigation systems, fertilisers, pesticides, and the harvest, all have to be paid upfront, and that the prices paid by the food industry are too low. Each year, the price for a tonne of tomatoes is fixed by Italian food industry representatives and local producers organisations, he says. These regional organisations, or co-operatives, of which most growers are members, then meet with processing companies to set up a deal and agree prices for the season.

'It's a bad life, tomato production with this system is destined to disappear. Prices are too low; maybe they are going to lower them more and more because of Chinese production,' says Lagana. Although still one of the world's leading suppliers of tomatoes – and tomato products – Italy is facing stiff competition from other growing nations, including China, to keep prices competitive and this pressure trickles down to individual farmers.      

A representative from one regional producers’ organisation told the Ecologist that the 'wider market' is to blame, and that if a major retailer says it is going to pay a certain amount per tin, 'the industry has to follow this price'. He made no correlation between the need to keep costs low and the apparently widespread use of migrant workers however; in fact, he denied that foreign workers were used in Basilicata to harvest tomatoes at all. 

Culture of impunity

Although acknowledging that tomato farmers face increasing pressures, human rights groups and unions argue that many growers simply turn a blind eye to exploitation: 'Farmers?  They don't care, they know about the inhumane conditions,'  Vincenzo Esposito, from the Flai-Cgil union, says. The union is behind a major campaign Oro Rosso – Red Gold – to raise awareness of the problem in Basilicata, Puglia and elsewhere.  

Esposito says there are two principal problems – the number of workers, and the payment system: 'There's too many workers, too many people, immigrants from elsewhere coming here, yet they cannot always get work here,' he says. 'Every year the Basilicata region deals with an emergency situation with the arrival of hundreds of workers. The situation in Puglia is worse, and the gangmasters are more aggressive.' 

Flai-Cgil is calling for an industry wide protocol, akin to a certification scheme, to be adopted by national tomato producers, in order to agree minimum standards and an ethical code. On September 28th they are planning a national day of action to promote the scheme.      

Gervasio Ungolo, from Osservatorio Migranti, says there's a culture of inpunity around the issue: 'It's like in World War Two, when you had the trains [carrying Jews to the death camps]; everyone knew but didn't act because of fear, it's exactly the same with the tomato slaves.'

Ungolo used to cultivate tomatoes but left the sector after witnessing abuses: ' I used to see workers in the fields, slavery among workers, and bags of money [changing hands] – and decided to get out of this game,' he says.
Mechanical harvest

Tomatoes – and processed tomatoes in particular – are big business in Italy: the country produces up to 4 million tonnes each year with as many as 90 per cent destined for processing. Italian tinned tomato exports were estimated to be worth more than $900 million in 2008. The country is responsible for around 75 per cent of the world's canned tomato exports. Britain is the largest importer of tinned tomatoes in the world – with more than 80 per cent of its processed tomato products coming from Italy.
The trade is dominated by a handful of large companies. Leading suppliers deny any involvement in the migrant workers scandal.
Conserve Italia, manufacturer of the popular Cirio brand, processes approximately 300,000 tonnes of tomatoes annually, including some cultivated in Puglia and Basilicata. The company sells to Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Morrison’s, as well as supplying cash and carry outlets and specialist Italian delicatessens.

Conserve Italia admitted that some of its tomato suppliers use migrant labour but said they are employed by farmers and not directly associated with the company. The company also stated that a strict code conduct prevents abuses in their supply chain.

'Conserve Italia has an associated cooperative in Apulia [Puglia] that provides 50 per cent of the total amount of fresh tomato processed in our factory in Apulia. This cooperative associated to Conserve Italia guarantees that all the production is made in compliance with our code of ethics, which prescribes to the associated farmers to produce and harvest the tomato without exploitation of illegal labour,’ a statement said.

'Moreover of the total quality processed in Mesagne [in Puglia] factory, 80 per cent is harvested by machines and only 20 per cent is harvested by hand, with workers that are legally employed by the farmers not associated to Conserve Italia. The suppliers subscribe a commitment with Conserve Italia that engages them to respect all regulations in terms of use of labour. Most of the workers employed by our suppliers are Romanians and Bulgarians,' the statement continued 

La Doria, which through its subsidiary LDH Ltd, supplies many of the large UK supermarkets – including Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose – with tinned tomatoes and other tomato products for 'own brand' items, has a major processing plant situated in Lavello, Basilicata, but denied using any migrant labour for its harvest.  

The company said: ‘100 per cent of the tomatoes processed by La Doria are mechanically harvested where prices and contracts have been agreed, with approved growers in March this year prior to the planting of the crop. In the La Doria factories 100 per cent of seasonal workers are Italian and contracted to La Doria. La Doria have an ethical code which is not only followed throughout the group but also given to the contracted growers for them to respect. In addition a team of La Doria agronomists work closely with the growers to monitor closely all aspects of the cultivation and harvesting of the crop.’

A spokeswoman for Waitrose told the Ecologist: 'We take very seriously the welfare of all workers in our supply chain. Our expectations on labour standards and working conditions are outlined in our Responsible Sourcing Code of Practice, which all suppliers are expected to comply with – this includes branded suppliers such as Cirio.

'La Doria supplies us with canned tomatoes, and as a Waitrose supplier is engaged in our ethical compliance programme and expected to comply with our Responsible Sourcing Code... in addition, the tomatoes grown for Waitrose are mechanically harvested, which is much less labour intensive than manual harvesting, therefore bypassing the need for a large workforce.

'We build our supplier relationships on honesty, fairness and mutual respect and expect all our suppliers to respect the rights and well-being of their employees. As such we have immediately begun a thorough investigation to make sure our code of practice is being adhered to.'

Sainsburys said: 'Sainsbury’s was a founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and expects all suppliers to follow our Code of Conduct for Ethical Trade, which incorporates the ETI Base Code... Sainsbury's has a clear approach to corporate responsibility to ensure that we do business in an ethical and sustainable way.'

A spokesperson for Tesco said: ‘We work in partnership with our suppliers to ensure our products are sourced responsibly and will work to resolve any problems we find without delay. We have investigated these reports and do not believe our supplier is affected.’

Back in Basilicata, driving past the arid tomato fields around Venosa, Vincenzo Esposito is hoping their efforts to establish some sort of certification scheme will prove successful – soon: ‘We’ve got immigrants living without water, without electricity… they are treated like animals.’

In the main square at the centre of Venosa, we take a break, waiting for contacts to come back to us with news. We order a coffee and a cheese and salad sandwich from one of few cafes open at this – scorching – time of day. The owner's very sorry, our translator says, however, 'he’s run out of tomatoes.' 

Additional reporting and translation: Gianluca Martelliano

*The names of all workers and farmers have been changed to protect their identity