Italian tinned tomato producers are under fire for the appalling pay and conditions their workers face.
Italian tinned tomato producers are under fire for the appalling pay and conditions their workers face.

Truth about your tinned tomatoes

AUSTRALIAN consumers who buy Italian tinned tomatoes are being urged to switch to local brands, after migrant workers in Italy's $3.5 billion tomato industry exposed their horrendous working conditions.

While tinned tomatoes from Italy are often touted as superior in quality, thousands of migrant labourers who come to Italy for the summer are currently on strike following the deaths of 16 farmworkers in two separate road accidents in 48 hours.

Four workers were killed in a crash in the Puglia region on Saturday and 12 more died in a head-on collision near Lesina north of Foggia on Monday.

Many workers earn as little as one euro for picking 100kg of tomatoes.

In both incidents, trucks carrying tomatoes collided with overcrowded vans transporting workers home after work.

The vans were reportedly operating by illegal gangs, known as the Caporali, who offer farm owners cheap labour and take a cut of the worker's wages. They also transport the workers to and from their makeshift camps.

Workers have been protesting while wearing red hats, the same colour as the tomatoes they pick, holding signs reading "we are not slaves".

"It's like the return of slavery," Mohamed Doumbé Keita, an undocumented migrant from Guinea, told VICE News.

"Life is tough here. There's no medical care, and each man fends for himself. If you don't put in 10 hours a day, you won't even make €20 ($31)."

Prices for a 400g can of Annalisa tomatoes from Italy costs $1 from Woolworths, while a 400g can from Ardmona costs $1.80.

Social media users have urged consumers to support Australian farmers, who are currently suffering through a terrible drought, by purchasing local produce

"Have you ever wondered why Italian tinned tomatoes are so cheap compared to Australian ones?" one woman wrote on Vice's Facebook page.

"If you buy tinned tomatoes from anywhere other than Australia … you're funding this brutal exploitation of migrant workers. Support Australian farmers who are doing it tough and try to buy Australian grown food where possible."

Another commenter wrote: "Treated like slaves, like bloody sardines in a can."