The Global Slavery Index estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were 145,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Italy, a prevalence of 2.4 victims for every thousand people in the country.
In 2016, according to the government’s current database for tracking trafficking cases,1 1,172 victims of trafficking were assisted under the national protection program. The most commonly reported form of exploitation was forced sexual exploitation (674), with females representing 81 percent of the total number of victims (954). Nearly ten percent of the victims were children (111) and about 59 percent of the total were from Nigeria (696).2 In 2016 and the first eight months of 2017, law enforcement with responsibility for organised crime under the Ministry of Economy and Finance (Guardia di Finanza) reported 22 actions and 14 arrests under trafficking (article 601 of the penal code), forcing or maintenance of slavery (article 600), and purchase and sale of slaves (article 602).3
In Italy, labour exploitation, including forced labour, predominately affects migrant workers in agriculture, textile production, construction,4 and domestic work. 5 Research conducted in 2016 revealed that migrant workers in the agriculture sector and domestic work frequently face exploitative working conditions, ranging from violation of contract provisions through to severe abuse and trafficking for labour exploitation and forced labour.6 The agriculture sector, particularly in the less developed southern part of Italy where most of the country’s farms are situated, has been known for years to rely on cheap and exploited migrant labour.7 These workers are reportedly subject to some forms of exploitation and abuse, such as not receiving adequate remuneration, being charged to use transport provided by employers, having their passports and identity documents confiscated by middlemen or labour brokers called caporali, being forced to live in the place where they work, which exacerbates isolation and segregation that in turn increases vulnerability to human rights abuses, and being subject to inadequate or even inhumane living conditions.8, 9 The media has described workers being paid only 2 Euros an hour (US$2.32)10 with no legal employment contract or health insurance,11 while research conducted in 2016 identified that workers in Sicily could be paid between 15 Euros per day (less than 2 Euros per hour) through to 50 Euros per day in the agriculture sector.12
Cases of exploitation of migrant workers have been reported on Southern Italy’s farms,13 such as in the harvesting of oranges14 and tomatoes that allegedly ended up in tinned tomato products in Australia.15 Sparked by the death of a seasonal worker of Sudanese origin on a farm in Southern Italy, an investigation was launched in late 2017 accusing two of Italy’s largest food companies of sourcing tomatoes from suppliers that abused migrant workers on their farms. The allegations include subjecting labourers to long work hours seven days a week with no breaks, little pay, and no access to medical treatment.16 Sicily has been under particular public scrutiny since it was revealed in March 2017 that thousands of Romanian migrant workers were beaten, sexually abused, and exploited while working on farms in the Ragusa region of the island.17
There are also documented cases of exploitative working conditions among the Indian migrant worker community, particularly Sikhs from Punjab state, on farms in the province of Latina, not far from the capital Rome.18 An increasing number of these Indian labourers reportedly take addictive street drugs, including opium and heroin, to cope with the strain of the harsh physical work. Some are reportedly forced to work to pay off debts to fraudulent agents who promised them good employment opportunities and accommodation and organised their travel from India.19
The Tuscan city of Prato is one of Italy’s main production hubs of textiles and garments, turning out cheap clothing for “fast fashion” companies20 as well as designer brands21 based in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Prato has attracted one of the largest Chinese communities in Europe over the last 20 years. While Chinese-run enterprises make up about 80 percent of all operating companies in the Italian garment-making sector,22 most of the employees in these companies are Chinese who may enter Italy legally on a three-month tourist visas but end up violating the terms of their visas by working and overstaying until they have earned enough money to return to China. It is estimated that up to two-thirds of the Chinese in Prato are undocumented workers.23 There are concerns that many of the Chinese-run workshops use illegal labour, under-the-table payments and make their employees work long hours and at night.24 Interviewed workers have reported sweatshop-like working conditions, such as sleeping in cardboard cubicles in workshops and working from 8am to 10pm every day of the week, producing 70 shirts a day for 70 euro cents (US$0.81)25 per shirt.26
Instances of modern slavery have also occurred in domestic work in Italy, with reports of fraudulent recruitment practices, including high fees. Emilia Romagna and Tuscany are two regions where there is high prevalence of domestic workers; these workers tend to come from Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, Albania, Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Peru and Ecuador.27 Exploitative working conditions experienced in domestic work include lack of contracts, excessive working hours for low salaries, and restriction of freedom of movement, as well as verbal, physical, and mental abuse.28 Exploitation occurs for multiple reasons including a desire or need to save money, a tendency not to respect labour laws particularly for work in domestic settings, and negative connotations regarding domestic work, including the perception that domestic work is not ‘real work’ and that migrants should be ‘grateful’ for the opportunity to work.29
Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children
Women migrating from Nigeria to the European Union (EU) are at potential risk of being exploited in Italy in the sex industry. In 2016, 27,289 Nigerian migrants arrived in Italy, making them the most common group of migrants. Around 7,500 of these migrants were women.30 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that about 80 percent of Nigerian women and girls who arrived in Italy by sea in 2016 are likely to have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Italy or other EU countries.31 In many cases, Nigerian women come from a specific part of the country, the Edo region, and are forced into slavery through contracts signed in Nigeria involving specific forms of religious blackmail known as juju.32 It is a bonding ritual performed by local priests, typically involving women’s blood, nails, or body hair, through which victims are psychologically bound to their traffickers to repay the debt incurred to pay for their travel to Italy.33 These traffickers have associates operating in Italy, called madams, who bring the victims under their control and force them to work in the sex industry to repay these debts.34 In many cases, Nigerian women are unwilling to denounce their exploiters once they arrived in the country because they are afraid of the consequences of breaking a juju oath.35
Data on forced marriage are scarce at the global and regional level as many cases are not reported, while other data have not yet been systematically recorded due to the relatively recent criminalisation of forced marriage across EU countries. There are no official statistics available on forced marriage in Italy, but according to a 2014 study, forced and early marriage primarily affects migrants, including those from the Indian subcontinent and Sub-Saharan Africa countries.36 The ten (potential) victims of forced marriage that were interviewed as part of this study came from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Eritrea and were between 16 and 55 years of age.
Italian Roma girls are at risk of forced and early marriage. Research conducted among Roma women in Italy in 2011 found that 47 of 74 female respondents (64 percent) were married before the age of 18 and 22 respondents (30 percent) were married below the age of 16. The youngest victim was 12 years of age at the time of marriage. Of the respondents that married below the age of 18, five women stated that they were forced to marry against their will.37
Imported products at risk of modern slavery
While modern slavery clearly occurs within Italy, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that Italy, like many other countries globally, will also be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through the products it imports. Policymakers, businesses, and consumers must become aware of this risk and take responsibility for it. Table 1 below highlights the top five products (according to US$ value, per annum) imported by Italy that are at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery.38
Table 1Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to Italy
|Product at risk of modern slavery||Import value|
(in thousands of $US)
Apparel and clothing accessories
Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
|Laptops, computers, and mobile phones|
Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana
|China, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Russia South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand|
Nearly 30 percent of Italy’s total imports of apparel, as well as laptops, computers, and mobile phones, come from countries considered at risk of using modern slavery in the production of these goods. Italy imports cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana at a value of US$227million. Both countries are considered to be at risk of using modern slavery in cocoa agriculture. Other significant at-risk imports to Italy include cattle from Brazil (US$225 million) and fish from China, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand (US$192 million).
As a key transit point along the “Central Mediterranean Route” that extends from Sub-Saharan African countries through Niger and Libya, across the Mediterranean, and onto Europe, Italy has received an influx of migrants in recent years. Often having experienced abuse or exploitation on their journeys to get to Italy en route to other countries in Europe, these migrants can be at increased risk of modern slavery.39 According to Italian Ministry of Interior, 181,436 migrants arrived in Italy in 2016, the highest number of arrivals since 2008 and the peak year in terms of numbers of arrivals in recent years.40 During that same year, the Italian government received 123,600 asylum applications.41 The government did not release any official data on how many of those applicants were victims of human trafficking, even though Italian officials are instructed to screen asylum seekers for indicators of trafficking.42 Since 2016, the number of arrivals have been steadily decreasing, with a 77 percent decrease on arrivals between 1 January and 8 June 2018 in comparison to the same period in 2017, and a 72 percent decrease compared to the same period in 2016.43 As of 8 June 2018, 13,808 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea.44
There are approximately 162,000 reception places in either first reception centres (known as CARA- centri di accoglienza per richiedenti asilo or CDA- centri di accoglienza, about 10,000 places), secondary shelters under the System for the Protection of Asylum seekers and Refugees (SPRAR- Sistema di protezione per richiedenti asilo e rifugiati), approximately 26,000 places), or temporary emergency facilities (CAS- centro di accoglienza straordinario, 126,000 places).45 Migrants may choose to remain outside of these facilities in order to continue their migration journey while those who wish to remain in Italy are not always provided with accommodation and assistance due to large number of arrivals in recent years and because it may take years for an asylum request to be processed. As a result, migrants may become homeless, exploited in forced begging, or employed illegally in agriculture. If an asylum claim is rejected (which happened in 58 percent of all cases in 2017),46 individuals become even more at risk of exploitation as they are unable to enter the labour market legally.47
Limited services can also motivate migrants to leave temporary shelters, which further increases the number of workers at risk of exploitation.48 Particularly at risk are underage migrants. Between 1 January and 30 September 2016, the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs identified 14,225 unaccompanied minors in the country, of whom 6,357 had left from shelters run by the government.49 The lack of adequate structures for minors can make them easy targets for labour exploitation.
Migrants arrive in Italy by sea or land for multiple reasons. Data from IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, released in November 2017, revealed that more than half of 4,712 respondents (52 percent) left their country of origin because of violence or persecution, 35 percent reported economic reasons and 21 percent reported war or conflict as their reason for leaving. Reuniting with family, friends, or partners who are already in Europe was another reason.50 According to figures provided by the Italian Ministry of Interior, the vast majority of migrants (around 70 percent) come from Africa,51 reflecting the worsening of conditions in countries like Nigeria and Eritrea.52
Once in Italy, these migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected, are susceptible to modern slavery due to corrupt recruitment intermediaries and limited government resources to deal with such an influx. As a result, even though Italy’s legislation prohibits labour exploitation, these laws are not always effectively enforced. This lack of legal enforcement leaves these groups of workers at heightened risk of exploitation, including those employed on a casual basis or individuals with limited work rights.53 Often, they are vulnerable to a system of middlemen and labour brokers, known as caporali, who recruit migrants to work mostly illegally for local farmers during the harvest season. Although official data on illegal agricultural work are not available, the FLAI-CGIL (the largest Italian trade union of agricultural workers) estimates that between 400,000 and 430,000 workers in the sector have an irregular visa status and are vulnerable to exploitation54 and labour abuse.55 Migrant workers looking for work during harvest time are predominantly from Africa, but also from Eastern Europe (predominantly Romania56), and other parts of Italy.57
Non- EU domestic workers who enter through the regular admission system, which is based on annual quotas for specific sectors, or those who enter via family reunification or residency visas and do not declare their employment, or those who enter Italy illegally and try to regularise their status afterwards through government “regularisation” programs for undocumented migrant workers,58 as well as EU domestic workers, can also be at risk of slavery-like conditions. Italy’s ageing population, the privatisation of care and welfare services, and inadequate public structures59 have created a high demand for live-in caregivers as many families turn to low-paid migrant workers to assist their elderly family members.60 According to official estimates, 77.1 percent of the total workforce in domestic work in Italy are migrant workers.61 The hidden nature of domestic work further contributes to the vulnerability of the workers and makes identifying cases of exploitation difficult.62
Response to modern slavery
The Italian government has criminalised human trafficking in line with international definition in article 601 of its penal code, as amended by Legislative Decree No. 24 of March 2014.63 Forced labour is criminalised under articles 600, 601, and 603 and slavery is criminalised in article 600 and 602, which criminalise placing or holding a person in conditions of slavery or servitude, and the sale and purchase of slavery respectively.64 The government has not yet criminalised forced marriage as a distinct crime.
The recent influx of migrants has overwhelmed the Italian immigration system, and this has limited the number of modern slavery victims being identified while increasing the vulnerability of migrants to exploitation. Italy has a system of first-line structures in which front line police screen migrants for indicators of human trafficking. However, in 2016, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts against Human Trafficking (GRETA) reported that the Italian government did not have a clear set of procedures for the identification of potential victims, and that there was a shortage in the number of facilities available and in the number of front line personnel employed in these facilities.65 The surge in the number of migrants has also led to a policy vacuum in Italy regarding the issue of missing migrants. It has been noted that investigations of deaths and identification of bodies of dead migrants by the authorities are largely insufficient, making it challenging to collect adequate data on fatalities related to trafficking and migration.66
Since 2015, to deal with the large flows of people coming across the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels, EU and Italian policy have shifted from state-led search and rescue to placing the burden on NGOs and large merchant ships67 and working more closely with the Libyan Navy Coast Guard.68 A report released by Forensic Oceanography examines the week beginning 12 April 2015, which saw more than 1,200 lives lost in two separate incidents, the most people lost in the Mediterranean in recent years. What is striking is that this loss of life occurred during and partly as a result of rescue missions by merchant ships, which generally are ill-fitted to conduct search and rescue operations.69 Since 2017, the EU has also increasingly “outsourced responsibility”70 for migration control to Libya and Niger, pledging EUR90 million (US$107 million) in April 2017 to Libya alone for “improved migration management,” despite warnings by the UN that neither country has the infrastructure or training to abide by international law.71 Italian cooperation with Libya includes maintaining four coast guard cutters flying the Libyan flag at Naples, the training of Libyan Navy and Coast Guard crew to operate these vessels, and providing technical and logistical assistance in post-return stages of migrant arriving at sea.72 An Italian Code of Conduct released in August 2017, which all NGOs involved in migrant rescue were required to sign, banned NGOs from entering Libyan territorial waters and required NGOs not to obstruct search and rescue by the Libyan Coast Guard.73 Those intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard end up in detention centres where they are used as slaves74 or sold as slaves in open markets in Libya.75
In October 2016, the Italian Parliament passed the Law No. 1999 of 29 October 2016, “Provisions to counter the phenomena of undeclared employment, of exploitative labour in agriculture and the realignment of wages in the agricultural sector”, (Legge n. 199, 29 Ottobre 2016, “Disposizioni in materia di contrasto ai fenomeni del lavoro nero, dello sfruttamento del lavoro in agricoltura e di riallineamento retributivo nel settore agricolo”) that revised the criminal offence of “unlawful intermediation and labour exploitation” under article 603 of the Penal Code.76 The law includes a penalty of one to six years in jail, and a fine from 500 to 1,000 euros for each worker recruited, for anyone who recruits on behalf of third parties and subjects workers to exploitation, a practice known as a caporalato.77 Exploitation is defined in the legislation as the payment of salaries below the national standard and disproportionate to the hours worked, repeatedly working long hours or being denied weekend breaks and holiday pay, systematic violation of workplace safety and hygiene, and the use of degrading methods to supervise workers.78 According to independent analysis, if implemented effectively, this law, labelled legge sul caporalato, will make it easier to stop forms of exploitation in the Italian countryside.79
In 2016, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Labour, and the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry approved the “Protocol against the caporalato and labour exploitation in agriculture” (“Protocollo contro il caporalato e lo sfruttamento lavorativo in agricoltura”), a set of guidelines aimed at improving the living and working conditions of seasonal agricultural workers through the creation of transport systems and mobile healthcare centres and the provision to migrant workers of temporary accommodation, easily accessible information on rights and labour legislation, and language courses. NGOs, trade unions, and business representatives signed the protocol and its implementation has been passed on to prefetture, which are offices run by the Minister of the Interior located in each Italian region capital.80 The application of its provisions has to date been patchy. Some regions, such as Basilicata, have created functioning systems to house and transport seasonal workers and to guarantee good living standards, while in other regions, such as Calabria, the prefetture have taken limited action. One limitation is the focus on implementation at the regional level; prefetture do not have always have knowledge of rural contexts nor local branches in rural areas.81
Inspections carried out by Italy’s labour inspectorate to detect cases of modern slavery of migrant workers have been termed ineffective and inadequately resourced. For instance, in the agricultural sector, inspections are often known in advance and carried out in large areas of agricultural land, which enables irregular workers and those who employ them to escape controls.82 This is exacerbated by a legislative framework introduced in 2009 that criminalises “irregular entry and stay,” thereby discouraging irregular migrants from reporting exploitation while encouraging labour inspectors to prioritise the detection of irregular migrant workers over monitoring working conditions.83 Labour inspections in domestic work rarely occur as labour inspectors can intervene in this sector only if there is a direct request from a domestic worker, from a trade union, or from the NGOs supporting the victim.84
At the end of 2016, the Italian government approved a new National Action Plan on Trafficking and Serious Exploitation of Human Beings for the 2016-2018 period.85 The Plan is implemented by a Steering Committee (Cabina di regia) and involves civil society in its four working groups. The Plan will be monitored through a “System of Monitoring and Verification of the National Action Plan,” but it is unclear how the results of this monitoring will be published or if there will be an independent commissioner to monitor the government’s response.86 The plan included the establishment of a new National Referral Mechanism, and the issuance of guidelines, which include indicators for Nigerian women who are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, to be assessed by the Territorial Commissions for International Protection.87 It is unclear whether guidelines on how to identify victims were distributed to all front line respondents, such as police, border guards, and social workers, and there are no readily available statistics on its use.88 Article 18 of the Consolidated Immigration Law (Legislative Decree No. 286 of 25 July 1988) provides for a social protection residence permit for foreigners, including illegal immigrants. This permit is issued by the police when migrants are in situations of violence or serious exploitation by criminal organisations. It lasts for six months and can be extended for a year or longer in order to cooperate with the criminal justice process. The permit allows migrants to access employment.89
Response to modern slavery in supply chains
In January 2016, Italy passed Law No. 50 of 18 April 2016 (Decreto Legislativo n. 50, 18 Aprile 2016), that implements the 2014/23, 2014/24, and 2014/25 EU directives on public procurement.90 Article 80 of the new law establishes that contracting authorities shall exclude an economic operator from participation in a public procurement procedure if the operator was convicted by final judgment for child labour or human trafficking. According to Article 213 of the law, the National Anti-Corruption Authority (Autorità Nazionale Anticorruzione) is responsible for sanctioning public authorities that do not comply with the law. Currently, the Italian government does not issue annual reports on government action to prevent the use of forced labour in public procurement. It does not provide training to public procurement officials on modern slavery, nor does it have a law that prevents the import of goods and services made with forced labour.
Business supply chains
In December 2016, Italy implemented the EU 2014/95 Directive on non-financial reporting for businesses.101 Legislative Decree no. 254 of 30 December 2016 (Decreto Legislativo n. 254, 30 Dicembre 2016) requires businesses with more than 500 employees to disclose in their annual management report information on policies, principal risks, and outcomes relating to environmental, social, employment, human rights, and corruption and anti-bribery matters. In particular, Article 3, paragraph E details that businesses should include actions relative to “the respect of human rights, the measures adopted to prevent violations of human rights, and the actions undertaken to prevent any other discriminatory behaviour and action.”102 The law establishes that businesses not complying with this duty will receive a fine between 20,000 and 150,000 euros.103 According to the most recent data (2011) from the Italian National Institute of Statistics Italy (ISTAT), Italy has 1,465 companies that will be affected by the new legislation.104 In the implementation of the EU directive, the Italian government did not include any specific references to modern slavery and the respect of labour rights; moreover, it did not indicate any further mechanisms to force businesses to report on their supply chains. It is too early to assess the impact this new legislation will have on Italian businesses.
In 2014 the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (Ministero delle politiche agricole, alimintari e forestali) promoted a public campaign called “To work above board” (“Lavorare alla luce del sole”), which is aimed at stopping labour exploitation in the agricultural sector in Southern Italy.105 In 2015, the Ministry created the “Network of the high-quality agricultural labour” (“Rete del lavoro agricolo di qualità”), a system to certify businesses respecting labour laws and social legislation. Only businesses that have not received convictions for violations of labour laws in the past three years are admitted to the network. Participation in the network is voluntary, and it is up to each business to seek to acquire the certification.106 In July 2017, 2,452 businesses were part of the network.107 Trade unions, representatives of agricultural businesses, and local administrators supported the creation of the network, while suggesting that it should be strengthened and expanded by offering tax relief to businesses in the network and by creating a “slavery-free” label for products coming from certified businesses.108
Private organisations in Italy have promoted initiatives on the issue of forced labour and supply chains. COOP, a large chain of supermarkets, started the campaign “Good and fair” (“Buoni e giusti”), which promoted rigid controls on the supply chains of fruits and vegetables sold in COOP stores. The campaign involved 832 suppliers working with around 70,000 farms.109 The private organisation Ethical Company (Impresa Etica) offers guidance to businesses to obtain social certification standards such as the SA8000, which covers businesses’ actions on forced labour, child labour, working hours, and remuneration.110
The government of Italy should:
- Criminalise forced marriage as a distinct crime in the penal code.
Improve victim support
- Re-establish state-led search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to prevent the death of migrants at sea.
- Scale up support and monitoring of the Libyan Coast Guard to prevent the exploitation of migrants in Libya and the death of migrants at sea.
- Ensure there is a sufficient number of shelter places and integration support for migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, to help them access, or prevent them from leaving, shelters and thereby becoming susceptible to exploitation.
- Distribute and provide regular training on guidelines on how to identify victims to all front-line responders, such as police, border guards, and social workers.
Strengthen coordination and transparency
- Publish regular updates on the National Action Plan 2016-2018 and provide details on how it will be funded.
- Appoint an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner who monitors the government’s response across all sectors.
- Make data gathered under the National Referral Mechanism are available to the public and promote research based on the evidence produced.
Address risk factors
- Improve implementation of the “Protocol against the caporalato and labour exploitation in agriculture” (Protocollo contro il caporalato e lo sfruttamento lavorativo in agricoltura) by developing partnerships between prefetture and other local government offices such as labour inspectorates to improve living and working conditions of seasonal agricultural workers.
- Strengthen the “Network of the high-quality agricultural labour” (“Rete del lavoro agricolo di qualità”) by making it compulsory for agricultural businesses to become part of the network.
Eradicate modern slavery from the economy
- Strengthen existing Legislative Decree No. 50 of 18 April 2016 on public procurement (Decreto Legislativo n. 50, 18 Aprile 2016) to prohibit (and not merely advise against) government agencies from purchasing of any goods produced through modern slavery.
- Include modern slavery as a specific reporting requirement under the Legislative Decree No. 254 of 30 December 2016 (Decreto Legislativo no. 254, 30 Dicembre 2016).
- Increase the number of labour inspections in the agricultural sector and ensure these are carried out unannounced.