Italian factory conditions deteriorate

New research into Italian shoe and garment factories released today shows that competition with Eastern Europe and Asia is driving down wages and working conditions in Italy.

New research by Campagna Abiti Puliti shows decline towards illegal work, low pay levels, and overtime characterises Italian garment industry.

The survey conducted by Campagna Abiti Puliti, the Italian section of the Clean Clothes Campaign, has found that big brands including Louis Vuitton, Armani, Prada and Dior are buying back old factories that had been forced to close due to competition with cheaper production hubs in post-socialist countries and Turkey, only now the expectation is these factories compete on low wages and poor conditions as well.

“The Chinese produce with final prices that local entrepreneurs could not even quote to cover their costs. Many small owners have closed down their workshops,” said one worker.

One auditor who visited a subcontracted Chinese factory described the conditions: “They might have a fire extinguisher, but it is empty. Fifteen people are expected to sleep in a room as big as this one, there is space for the kitchen and there is a gas canister. Windowless places, and the stairs taking you down to the production zone are probably packed with cardboard boxes filled with fabrics.”

The research, based on workers interviews conducted across Italy in 2013, reveals that factory workers’ wages at entry level in the legal industry do not exceed 1200 euro net per month. In the Veneto region, apprentices were shown to take home 730 euros a month, and home-based workers only 850 euros – far below the amount needed to survive with dignity. A family would need at least 1600 euros to afford a decent standard of living, according to calculations made for Northern Italy by Istat, the Italian national statistics institute.

The illegal industry was also found to be growing in the sector in response to price competition. Researchers found subcontracting firms hiring workers at cut down prices on contracts where they were expected to work excessive hours to stay in employment, or workers on day rates which severely undercut a living wage.

“In response to the global race to the bottom, Italy is moving towards an increasingly insecure and flexible labour market which reduces social protection and leaves workers increasingly alone and exposed to the effects of the crisis,” said Francesco Gesualdi the report's author. “Big brands moving back to Italy is certainly good news for employment opportunities, but it is catastrophic if the same poverty wages, lack of trade unions, fear over job security and poor factory safety typical in Bangladeshi or Moldovan factories, comes too.”  

The report recommends the adoption of living wage legislation within Europe using as an example benchmark levels calculated by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance for Asian countries and those calculated by the Clean Clothes Campaign for post-socialist countries and Turkey.

The report further highlights the crucial need for European institutions to alter their intervention strategies on the issues of wages in line with provisions in the Treaty of Lisbon and the Guiding Principles of the United Nations for Business and Human Rights and further freeze negotiations regarding the TTIP Agreement, which would have further negative effects on workers’ rights.

A meeting is taking place within the EU today to consult on a proposed EU Flagship Initiative on the garment industry. The Clean Clothes Campaign will attend and strongly advocate for serious legal provision to regulate the industry outside and within Europe.