- François-Xavier Branthôme
- 2020 Season
The Princes Group (PIA) published at the beginning of May a video statement regarding its commitments to complying with ethical rules in every sector of its tomato processing business. The video can be consulted here, presenting the main points of the statement.
“Italian tomatoes are part of everyday meal-times for millions of people right across the world. Most are processed in southern Italy, harvested in a short summer window, often in searing temperatures. Serious human rights issues exist in Southern Italy.” Mechanical harvesting dominates the industry, but human crews are still needed to operate the machines, and manual labor is required in the event of rain and on the smaller farms. To assume that mechanical harvesting eliminates all risk of human rights abuse demonstrates a lack of understanding of the issues. Illegal wages, poor working conditions, lack of contracts for workers and forced labor can still occur. Workers also run the risk of being exploited by recruiters sometimes linked to organized crime, some of whom run the transport service to and from harvest fields in unsafe and precarious vehicles.
But there are companies who take their responsibility very seriously. PIA was established in 2012 in Foggia, the heart of the tomato growing region. The group is home to Napolina, the UK’s leading canned tomato brand and many private brands sold under other labels. The company produces over 250 million tomato product items each year, and like every part of the Princes’ group, PIA is committed to environmental and social sustainability throughout its operations. It has been organizing ethical forums and running training programs since 2013 to help stamp out human rights abuses in Italy. In 2019, company leaders signed a groundbreaking partnership with the Coldiretti, Italy’s largest farming union, providing tomato growers with long-term contracts at prices endorsed by the union, bringing a fair and profitable return to growers.
Today, all of PIA’s growers are independently certified to demonstrate respect for human rights at work. They also obtain contract prices early in order to secure production and ensure a fair profit margin for farmers as well as legal payment levels for workers. Hundreds of labor inspections are performed every year. A migrant worker scheme has been set up to give people opportunities to find factory work. On-truck GPS and in-field QR-codes indicate exactly where every tomato is from. PIA is also introducing digital blockchain traceability to provide transparency of the entire supply chain.
“Princes has shown important industrial leadership by taking an active role in the Ethical Trading Initiative’s working group on Italian fresh produce. As an active member of the ETI [Ethical Trading Initiative], Princes has been transparent about the challenges it faces in this particular market and has shown commitment to tackling them”, explains Myriam Duale, Assistant Strategy Lead with the Ethical Trading Initiative. “Sustainable solutions require concerted actions by all actors. Buyers should do a ‘due diligence’ and buy from suppliers who carefully monitor their supplies and who actively work to improve conditions for workers. Princes has shown itself to be a company committed to improving labor standards for workers in their own supply chain and also in the industry as a whole”, says Ole Henning Sommerfelt, Senior Advisor for the Ethical Trading Initiative (Norway).
“First of all, we have to understand the need to put our ethics and sustainability at the heart of our business model and mission, including economic sustainability and ethical working practices. These are things that Princes has made possible and we are proud to be part of it”, says Giuseppe De Fillippo, President of Futuragri.
Ibrahim Mbaye Meme, a member of the PIA Agronomy Team who comes from Senegal and joined Princes in 2019 as part of their “Lavoro Senza Frontiere” (Work Without Borders) scheme, believes that his life was “transformed by PIA” when the company gave him the opportunity to work. He is now “part of the agronomy team to support in-field inspections for PIA, talking to the workers in the tomato fields to make sure they get the help and support they require.”
Retailers also have a responsibility to work closely with suppliers to improve the lives of workers in the supply chain. All supply chain stakeholders and government institutions must collaborate to create sustainable long-term solutions for the tomato processing industry and, on a wider scale, Italian agriculture as a whole. From field to fork, PIA is participating in changing an industry and reassuring customers so that families can trust the Napolina brand and its partners to deliver the best tasting and the most responsibly sourced tomatoes in Italy.
Princes / Coldiretti: price agreement signed on 1 June
Recent events have confirmed Princes’ commitment to supply answers as early as possible in the season for negotiations with growers. According to the Italian press, an agreement was signed “to support the economy and employment by enhancing the reputation of the food product that is a symbol of Italy’s national identity” both at home and abroad. Princes Industrie Alimentari manages the largest tomato processing plant in Europe in Foggia. The agreement with this company, pointed out the Coldiretti, “guarantees excellent quality production, as well as environmental and social sustainability with particular attention to the protection of workers’ rights and the fight against illegal hiring practices.”
Growers will be awarded a fair purchase price, based on the actual costs incurred to comply with production specifications, based on fair investment planning. The agreement provides for a remuneration of EUR 121 per metric tonne for round tomatoes (for tomato paste production) and EUR 125 per metric tonne for oblong tomatoes (for canned tomatoes production), representing an increase of 23% compared to 2019 in the prices paid to farmers for the 2020 season. These prices will be applied only to tomatoes grown in Puglia, Basilicata and Molise, where about half of the nation’s crop is grown. A premium of EUR 10 per tonne will also be applied for the use of an integrated mulching technique.
“The agreement is part of a responsibility scheme from the field to the shelves promoted by the Coldiretti to ensure that behind all the food on sale there is a quality path that respects the environment, workers’ health and work conditions, with a fair distribution of the value,” underlines Ettore Prandini, President of the Coldiretti. He specified that “the agreement also represents a valuable point of reference to support the competitiveness of Made in Italy products, both within the country and abroad.” The tomato supply chain includes a total of around 7 000 agricultural operators, over 100 processing companies and 10 000 employees in Italy. It exports EUR 1.7 billion of tomato products annually all over the world.
Sources: PIA, adnkronos.com