MILAN — Campagna Abiti Puliti, the Italian arm of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), an international alliance of garment industry labor unions and nongovernmental organizations, has issued a new report card for Italy based on research assembled in 2013.

Titled “Can you earn a living wage in fashion in Italy?” the review suggests that increasingly, the answer is “No.” Workers’ rights in Italy improved after World War II with a movement toward collective labor agreements. But more recently, globalization and the European economic crisis have taken a toll on the many small and medium-sized businesses in the fashion industry, and consequently on the people they employ.

“In response to the global race to the bottom, Italy is moving towards an increasingly insecure and flexible labor 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 proposed a lengthy list of measures for the Italian government and garment industry to adopt, including continuous collaboration with Istat — Italy’s national statistics bureau — to calculate a fair living wage, “the adoption of a living wage within Europe as a statistical reference valid for every country of the Union” and “the harmonization of social security contribution rates in all EU countries.”

Citing workers, employers, auditors, journalists and others, the CCC report focused on the Veneto, Tuscany and Campania regions. A key finding was the presence in many firms of “of both declared and undeclared employment, which often takes the form of workers hired with part-time contracts that work all day, or workers, especially in recent years, who have been made temporarily redundant and are called back by the firm to carry on working regularly alongside those not affected by redundancy.”

The CCC also alluded to problems of undocumented overtime, or deliberate misclassification of workers in lower pay categories.

Francesco Rotondi, founding partner of Milan law firm Lablaw, which specializes in labor issues, said the report accurately reflected the exploitation some workers, particularly illegal immigrants, face in Italy, drawing a parallel between the garment and construction sectors. He took issue, however, with the notion that poor wages and safety are the result of a faulty legal framework.

“If people are underpaid, it is absolutely not due to the application of the law or to a lack of laws,” Rotondi said, noting that Italy’s legal system often stands out for its over-abundance of procedures. “The real issue here is inspection, and enforcement. In Italy we are ready for everything except enforcement.”

Rotondi said it was more difficult for large firms to flout labor laws, and the fashion industry’s reliance on a complex network of small manufacturers and suppliers partly explains the CCC’s findings.

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