An article in the Guardian on 12th January 2018 claimed that the British food company, Princes, had become the latest firm linked with an investigation into labour abuses involving migrant workers who pick tomatoes in southern Italy for British and European consumers.
It was alleged that Princes Industrie Alimentari, owned by Princes, bought tomatoes from a supplier, De Rubertis, whose workers were described in October 2017 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 the supplier 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,was the main UK distributor of tomatoes and supplied products to France and Germany under different brand names.
In a statement to the Guardian, Princes said its own audits of the supplier farm in 2016 and 2017 “did not reveal any evidence of illegality”.
“We hold human rights in the highest regard and oppose any form of forced or illegal labour. PIA [Princes Industrie Alimentari SrL] is a strictly compliant organisation and proactive in ensuring our supply chain complies with Italian legislation and our own ethical standards. We can confirm that since 2016 we have sourced tomatoes from [the supplier] and that our own due diligence measures have not found any evidence of illegality,” the statement said.
After an earlier article in the Guardian about the investigation by the Italian prosecutor, 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.”