Yvan Sagnet from Cameroon is battling modern slavery in Italy's agricultural sector. Sagnet once worked as a low-wage farmhand. Now he is fighting for the rights of seasonal farmworkers, taking criminal recruiters, or gangmasters, to court.
Yvan Sagnet calls them slaves: the hundreds of thousands of seasonal farmworkers from Africa and eastern Europe on Italy's fields. Without their labor the country would have no tomato, orange or olive harvest. But the workers are exploited and often forced to live under inhumane conditions in ruins or shanty towns called ghettos. In 2011 Sagnet himself briefly picked tomatoes on the fields near the southern Italian town of Nardò. For four days he labored to fill the 350-kilogram crates. He earned 14 euros a day, ten of which he had to hand over to the gangmaster, or Caporale, for transport and water. Caporale is the term for the criminal recruiters who control and exploit the workers. After a 14-hour day working under the blazing sun and even being beaten, Sagnet took home only four euros. He helped to organize the first strike among the farmhands. It was a success, and since then he has been an activist for the rights of the farmworkers and against the gangmasters. Despite death threats, he has set up an organization called NoCap, a label to certify produce farmed under ethically acceptable conditions. And he has taken his fight against exploitation and slavery to the courts. So far, the Italian justice system has responded slowly. It's a fight that will take a long time to win.