Oxfam study on unfair working conditions in Italy's wine industry

The organisation interviewed 79 workers on behalf of Swedens Systembolaget.

The study was published in September
The study was published in September

The global relief and development organisation Oxfam has produced a study "The workers behind Sweden's Italian wine" on behalf of Systembolaget, the Swedish state monopoly which controls the retail distribution of all alcoholic beverages with more than 3.5 per cent by volume.

Already committed to environmentally-responsible viticulture, the monopoly wants to increase the focus on respect for human rights in its supply chains, when putting out contracts for tender

The Swedes commissioned Oxfam to conduct research in the four regions of Italy that are their main suppliers: Puglia, Sicily, Piedmont and Tuscany. Of the current contract wineries, only one was willing to answer the human rights activists' questions. Thus, the findings are based on a total of 79 interviews with workers in the vineyard and cellar, as well as other findings. Oxfam conducted two field studies between September 2019 and April 2021, both at inconvenient times for wineries, because of the harvest, and then COVID-19 restrictions. 

"Ideally, Oxfam would have conducted the second phase of fieldwork with much deeper worker involvement, our researchers would have had time to gain the trust of workers through face-to-face meetings, and explore more deeply the implications behind the yes/no answers to our questions," the 118-page study says. 

There are appalling reports about the exploitation of farm workers and harvest labourers in the agro-industry, especially emigrants, and about the agrarian mafia. There is no question that the wine sector is also affected, but it is questionable whether the statements of 79 out of thousands of workers can be considered representative.

The research, conducted under the restrictions described above, reveals that a significant proportion of workers in the four regions are unable to cover their basic needs with the wages they receive for working in the vineyards (80% of respondents in Puglia, 25% in Sicily, 15% in Tuscany). As a result, workers have to work more than 8 hours per day to cover their basic needs (60% in Puglia, 35% in Sicily, 10% in Tuscany). 

A significant proportion of workers in all regions said they would not dare to raise a concern or complaint at work (50% in Tuscany, 43% in Puglia, 21% in Sicily, 14% in Piedmont). Many justified this with the fear of losing their job. In addition, 57 per cent of interviewees in Piedmont complained of not being paid for overtime and 64 per cent of Piedmontese workers fear reprisals if they join a union (30 per cent in Sicily). The absence of proper personal protective equipment, for example for spraying in the vineyard, was reported by 79 percent of respondents in Puglia (many of whom are self-employed, according to Oxfam) and 25 percent in Tuscany. Details can be found in the study.

Italy has the largest share of Sweden’s imported wines. Systembolaget wants to take more account of the social sustainability of wines in tenders from 2022. vc

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