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Italian Fruit Pickers Dying From Harmful Working Conditions

By: Charmaine Santos

Edited by: Juliana Zhu, Esq.

Puglia, Italy is home to five-star hotels and luxury villas that cater to northern Europe’s middle classes. Little do tourists know, however, that the fruit they enjoy at their dinner table is usually picked under horrifying conditions. Tens of thousands of unskilled and poor female workers/migrants work long hours under illegal conditions with very little pay. Some of the fruits of the region even make their way to as far as British supermarkets.

A 49-year-old mother of three, Paola Clemente, went to work despite having told her boss that she felt unwell. Later that day her heart gave out on the fields of the vineyards in Andria, Italy where she picked grapes in 100 °F heat for only £1.50 per hour. Another worker from Mrs. Clemente’s home town died of a heart attack in the same fields at the end of July. Two more workers perished from similar circumstances, putting a spotlight on southern Italy’s fruit pickers. Ciro Grassi, the person who is said to have recruited Mrs. Clemente and other workers to pick grapes in the fields, is now under investigation for suspected homicide and failure to come to the aid of a sick person.

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Mr. Miccolis, a member of the legal team representing the family of Mrs. Clemente, says, “People here working for this sort of money in these sort of conditions is normal. . . Many of the pickers are union members. The problem is that people are frightened about losing their jobs. They need this money.” This is indeed why Mrs. Clemente kept working at the vineyards in such harsh conditions. Her husband, Stefno Arcuri, explained that it was “secure money” that allowed them to survive.

The regional secretary of the Flai-Cgil farm workers union, Mr. Deleonardis, stated that some of the dead fruit pickers might have been exposed to pesticides that caused them to be ill. The Agriculture Minister of the area claimed that next month, a new system would be implemented that would allow consumers to know if they were buying produce from farms with ethical employment practices.


Charmaine Santos is a junior at the University of San Francisco pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Biology as well as minors in Chemistry and Health Studies. She volunteers alongside UCSF medical students at a student-run homeless clinic in San Francisco and is also an active volunteer with Operation Access. Charmaine is also a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.



Day, Michael. (2015, Aug 23). “Italy's secret 'slave' labourers: Unskilled fruit pickers working for a pittance to supply tourists with wine – sometimes with fatal consequences.” Retrieved September 2, 2015 from

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