Italy has an enormous problem with unethical practices and slave labor issues in its food supply. While many people living in Italy have the opportunity to buy a great deal of their food from known suppliers and family farmers, or even raising it themselves, the commercial producers – many of whom are large exporters or steady suppliers to Italian restaurants – engage in unethical practices regarding their workforce, especially involving the exploitation of migrant workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are legally living in Italy. However, because their skin-color (most are African) and lesser-language skills, plus being kept in poverty, these workers have few resources to fight their exploitation and have their health protected. Doctors have judged their living conditions to be abysmal and – ironically, tragically – many who are producing the world’s favorite foods are themselves undernourished.
Italy needs more encouragement to enforce existing laws against exploitation and to speed up government certification for those ethical farms who have been requesting it. Italy needs support from abroad and visiting tourists to only purchase food products that have been harvested according to ethical practice. Right now, the Italian government is not treating this as a priority and it is hard for consumers and visitors to know which products and restaurants abide by ethical practice, and which do not.
Eating “local” when you are visiting Italy is probably the biggest contribution you can make. That means eating very local recipes, eating in restaurants that specialize in very local dishes. Any time food is transported long distances within Italy – whether it is mozzarella for your pizza in Venice or seafood when you can’t smell the sea from where you are – the risks that the chain of suppliers is exploiting its laborers to provide you with that food increases.
This is also the case if you are buying imported foods from Italy. It would help greatly if people began by taking an interest, asking questions when you shop at Eataly, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or your local Italian deli. Just take an interest, discuss the problem, don’t help in covering it up. As movements arise to insist on ethically produced food and labels on packaging begin to change, lend support with your dollars and euros where you can.
The people doing back breaking labor to provide us with our food, especially our luxury food, deserve to live decently. I hope tourists and “foodies” alike who love Italy and who love the food of Italy will take responsiblity for paying the true price of what we consume. Hope everybody agrees and will join in whatever way you can to promote and support ethical certification for food produced in Italy.