UN experts calls on Italy to take action against exploitation of migrant workers

14 ottobre 2021

UN human rights experts today called on the Italian government and Italian businesses to take decisive action to end exploitation of foreign migrant workers and address their precarious legal status.

At the end of a 10-day official visit to Italy, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights highlighted serious and persistent human rights abuses relating to business activities in Italy. These include inhumane work and living conditions for thousands of migrant workers, serious occupational health and safety concerns, and environmental pollution that endangers public health.

“Migrant workers, including from African and Asian countries, working in sectors such as agriculture, garment and logistics, are trapped in a cycle of exploitation, debt bondage and human rights abuses that must be broken,” said Surya Deva from India, Chairperson of the Working Group. “This requires decisive action by the Government and business to provide decent work conditions for all workers.”

The Working Group welcomed efforts by the Government to dismantle the illegal gang-master system known as “caporalato,” but said “many workers living in inhumane conditions see no positive change in their lives.” The Group also welcomed steps by the Government to strengthen Italy’s legal and policy framework in the area of business and human rights, but said there remains a need to better implement laws and impose sanctions sufficient to deter abuses by businesses.

After visiting communities living in areas of industrial activity such as Avellino, Taranto and Val d’Agri, who said their own Government was neglecting their rights to health and a clean environment, Deva said that “their concerns must be taken seriously”, adding that “concerted efforts must be made to build trust, independently monitor emissions and health impacts, and provide effective solutions. These solutions should be forward-looking and contribute to global efforts towards decarbonisation and transition to a green economy.”
The Working Group called for significant improvements in revising and enforcing laws, conducting effective monitoring of business activities, and strengthening access to effective remedy for business-related human rights abuses. Italian businesses and foreign-owned businesses operating in Italy must also carry out meaningful human rights due diligence across their operations and supply chains.

“As a highly developed economy in the European Union, Italy should establish a strong, independent national human rights institution without further delay with an explicit mandate to deal with business-related human rights abuses. It should also enact a mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence law,” Deva said.
The Working Group visited Rome and the regions of Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Lombardia and Toscana from 27 September to 6 October. It also considered the impact of COVID-19 on promoting responsible business conduct practices. The visit coincides with the ongoing revision of Italy’s national action plan on business and human rights as well as the G20 Leaders’ Summit to be held in Rome from 30 to 31 October 2021. The Working Group will present a full report of its findings and recommendations concerning this visit to the Human Rights Council in June 2022.

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