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Italy: Government must break cycle of exploitation of workers, hold businesses accountable – UN experts

06 October 2021


ROME (06 October) – UN human rights experts today called on the Italian government and Italian businesses to take decisive action to end exploitation of foreign migrant workers and address their precarious legal status.

At the end of a 10-day official visit to Italy, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights highlighted serious and persistent human rights abuses relating to business activities in Italy. These include inhumane work and living conditions for thousands of migrant workers, serious occupational health and safety concerns, and environmental pollution that endangers public health.

“Migrant workers, including from African and Asian countries, working in sectors such as agriculture, garment and logistics, are trapped in a cycle of exploitation, debt bondage and human rights abuses that must be broken,” said Surya Deva, Chairperson of the Working Group. “This requires decisive action by the Government and business to provide decent work conditions for all workers.”

The Working Group welcomed efforts by the Government to dismantle the illegal gang-master system known as “caporalato,” but said “many workers living in inhumane conditions see no positive change in their lives.”

Government authorities, businesses, and trade unions should work together to improve conditions and ensure that no one, including producers and retailers, benefits from cheap, exploited labour.

The Working Group welcomed steps by the Government to strengthen Italy’s legal and policy framework in the area of business and human rights, but said there remains a need to better implement laws and impose sanctions sufficient to deter abuses by businesses.

The Working Group also visited communities living in areas of industrial activity such as Avellino, Taranto and Val d’Agri, who said their own Government was neglecting their rights to health and a clean environment.

“Their concerns must be taken seriously,” Deva said. “Concerted efforts must be made to build trust, independently monitor emissions and health impacts, and provide effective solutions. These solutions should be forward-looking and contribute to global efforts towards decarbonisation and transition to a green economy.”

The Working Group called for significant improvements in revising and enforcing laws, conducting effective monitoring of business activities, and strengthening access to effective remedy for business-related human rights abuses. Italian businesses and foreign-owned businesses operating in Italy must also carry out meaningful human rights due diligence across their operations and supply chains.

“As a highly developed economy in the European Union, Italy should establish a strong, independent national human rights institution without further delay with an explicit mandate to deal with business-related human rights abuses. It should also enact a mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence law,” Deva said.

The Working Group visited Italy from 27 September to 6 October to examine efforts of the Government and businesses to implement their human rights obligations and responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights both in Italy and in relation to the activities and supply chains of Italian business abroad. It visited Rome and the regions of Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Lombardia and Toscana. It also considered the impact of COVID-19 on promoting responsible business conduct practices.

The visit coincides with the ongoing revision of Italy’s national action plan on business and human rights as well as the G20 Leaders’ Summit to be held in Rome from 30 to 31 October 2021.

“This is a golden opportunity for the Government of Italy to demonstrate leadership by putting its commitments into practice, first and foremost for the most vulnerable and for the environment,” said Deva.

The Working Group will present a full report of its findings and recommendations concerning this visit to the Human Rights Council in June 2022.


The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its current members are: Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu MuigaiMr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry.

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. The Working Group reports to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (resolution 17/4), provide the authoritative global standard for action to safeguard human rights in a business context, clarifying what is expected by governments and companies to prevent and address impacts on human rights arising from business activity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Italy

For additional information and media requests please contact the Working Group Secretariat:

In Italy (during the visit)tel. +41 794443781; email: [email protected]

In Geneva: +41 22 9179815, email: [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit [email protected]

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