by Giosuè De Salvo, manager of advocacy, education and campaigns of Mani Tese
At the end of a 10-day official visit to Italy, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights has highlighted serious and persistent abuses with regard to the activities of companies in Italy.
Such abuses include inhumane working and living conditions for thousands of migrant workers, serious occupational health and safety problems, and environmental pollution that endangers public health.
United Nations experts have urged the Italian government to take decisive action to put an end to the exploitation of foreign migrant workers and to make Italian companies legally responsible for the violations of human rights and the environment that occur as a result of their production activities.
“Migrant workers, including those from African and Asian countries, working in sectors such as agriculture, clothing and logistics, are trapped in a vicious cycle of exploitation, debt slavery and human rights abuses that must be broken” declared Surya Deva, Chairman of the Working Group.
The Working Group welcomed the government’s efforts to dismantle the illicit recruitment system known as “caporalato”, but said that “many workers living in inhumane conditions do not glimpse any positive change in their lives.”
United Nations experts visited communities living in industrialized areas, such as Taranto and Val d’Agri, which stressed the failure of their own government to respect their rights to health and a clean environment.
“Their concerns must be taken seriously” – Deva argued – “We need to make concerted efforts to instill trust, independently monitor emissions and health effects and provide effective solutions. These solutions must be forward-looking and contribute to global efforts towards achieving decarbonisation and the transition to a green economy.”
The Working Group called for significant improvements in the review and application of laws, in carrying out effective monitoring of business activities and in strengthening access to judicial or extra-judicial remedies for victims of abuse. Italian and foreign companies operating in Italy must also carry out systematic checks on the impact of their operations and their supply chains on human rights.
In general, the measures adopted by the government to strengthen Italy’s legal and political framework in the business and human rights sector are appreciable, but there is still a need to better implement the laws and impose adequate sanctions to dissuade companies from violating these laws.
“As a highly developed economy of the European Union, Italy should create a strong and independent national human rights institution as soon as possible, vested with an explicit mandate that allows it to intervene on issues regarding human rights abuses related to business activities. It should also enact a law on mandatory due diligence with respect to human rights and the environment” Deva finally declared.
The Working Group visited Italy from 27 September to 6 October to review the efforts made by the Government and businesses to comply with their human rights obligations and responsibilities, in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights both in Italy and in relation to the activities and supply chains of Italian companies abroad. He visited Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Lombardy and Tuscany. It also considered the impact of Covid-19 on promoting responsible business behavior practices.
Mani Tese, in collaboration with other associations and NGOs, has long been involved in the promotion and monitoring of the application of the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights and on the occasion of this important visit has decided to create an English version of its ebook “Business and Human Rights. How to link the freedom of enterprise to respect for human rights“.