International slave labour keeps tomatoes cheap


What a bargain! A can of tomatoes for 75c. But how come they can be so cheap?

Economist, Barbara Ward once suggested that we still have slaves, but these days we don’t see them because they are on the other side of the world.

In a thought-provoking column Newsroom, Nikki Mandow wonders if perhaps the cheap tins of tomatoes in New Zealand’s supermarkets are the result of slave labour.

She notes that Countdown has 32 different tinned tomato products on its (online) shelf.

Prices range from 70 cents to $2.55.

“Only 11 are locally-sourced – good ol’ Watties’ Hawkes Bay tomatoes, plain and flavoured. Maybe roast garlic and onion for spag bol?

Every other canned tomato – 21 different sorts – is Italian.”

“Can you really bring a tin of tomatoes halfway around the world and sell it at a third of the price of a locally-sourced brand, and be sure no unsavoury human resources practices happened along the line?” Mandow asks.

In June, the Guardian published an article by Tobias Jones and Ayo Awokoya with the subtitle “How the Italian mafia makes millions by exploiting migrants.”

In the Italian south, the lives of foreign agricultural labourers are so cheap that many NGOs have described their conditions as a modern form of slavery.

A few have work contracts, although union organisers often find they are fake.

Desperate for work, these labourers will accept any job in the fields even if the wages are far below, and the hours far above, union standards.

Ward, Baroness Jackson of Lodsworth, was a British economist and writer interested in the problems of developing countries.

She was an early advocate of sustainable development before this term became familiar and was well known as a journalist, lecturer and broadcaster.

She died in 1981.


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