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Anti-mafia wine?

May 11, 2010

You may have heard of the "fair trade" coffee and "conflict-free" diamond seals of corporate responsibility. In Italy they have another - "anti-mafia."

Anti-mafia sign from Libera Terra
Libera Terra invites consumers to stand up to the mafiaImage: DW

It was not a typical supermarket opening. On a sunny evening, hundreds of Sicilians gathered outside the new Coop store, one of Italy's largest supermarket chains, in the seaside town of Mondello.

"This opening is extremely meaningful. I usually do not attend the opening of even the biggest stores but today I wanted to be here for the opening of this 195-square meter shop," national president of Coop, Aldo Soldi, told the crowd.

"This opening is not the like the others - it is much more important. This shop is an opportunity to get the best out of this community."

Aldo Soldi is celebrating the fact that this Coop store will sell so-called "anti-mafia" products. They include wine, honey and pasta produced on land confiscated from the mafia in the mid 1990s.

Sicilian farmland
Italian authorities seized farmland from organized crime figures in the 1990sImage: DW

Nearly a decade ago, the organization Libera Terra was founded with the aim of making good use of the land - to promote Sicily's economy and create jobs.

Now it is distributing its goods and the anti-mafia brand of social responsibility across Italy.

"I am talking to the guys among us who have links to the mafia," said Father Notari, taking the microphone. "I invite these people to spread the word that hope is growing. To go to Coop means to join and uphold those entreprenurial activities that aim to foster a different kind of Sicily."

A shelf stocked with Libera Terra products
Libera Terra markets a wide range of organic produceImage: DW

Sicily tries to shake mafia influence

Sicily is a mafia stronghold, but underworld power structures affect people all across the country. A 2007 report revealed that organized crime constitutes seven percent of Italy's gross domestic product (GDP).

However, Libera Terra spokesman Francesco Galante contends that his organization aims to attract consumers not just for its anti-mafia message, but because of the high quality of their goods.

"The quality of these products, of this ('clean') economy, must be better than others and must be something people can prefer," he said."It's not charity - that's not what pushes the consumer. It's the quality."

Not long ago, it was taboo to speak out against the powerful mafia, and in fact, many Italians were murdered for doing so. But that changed in 2004 when a group of young people started rallying local businesses to stop paying protection money, or pizzo, to the mafia.

Today they operate under the name Addio Pizzo, and Galante also volunteers for the group part-time.

Houses in Palermo
Sicilian businesses who refuse to pay protection money risk violent reprisalsImage: DW

Strength in numbers

Most Sicilian businesses still pay the pizzo, which costs on average 500 to 600 euros per month, according to Galante. It only accounts for around 5 percent of mafia income, but even so, it is important for them to retain it.

If shop owners refuse to pay, they may be punished. For example, their buildings may be destroyed or they may receive death threats.

"The other way to 'strike them' is by isolating them, which happens several times in small towns. They're the only guys not in the right circle, which is even worse than (inflicting) damage," said Galante.

Although Libera Terra and Addio Pizzo have gained a lot of support and public opinion of the mafia has decreased following a string of high-profile murders, they still risk mafia retaliation.

Libera Terra sign
Libera Terra is looking to expand in EuropeImage: DW

Anti-mafia products in Germany?

Libera Terra recently visited the German cities of Bonn and Berlin to promote its products.

"Germany is, in general, interested in these kinds of products because they are both fair and good – and organic, which is an added value," said Galante.

Meanwhile, the German Embassy has published a list of the 400 Sicilian businesses that refuse to the pizzo. The idea is to give tourists the option of shopping only at places that don't line mafia pockets.

Author: Vanessa Johnston
Editor: Sam Edmonds