As a preparation for the activities I was going to undertake, I began a comprehensive study of the Italian and European legislation on labor exploitation, and reached two main conclusions. First, for migrants to come out effectively of a condition of exploitation, such emergence had to embrace necessarily all aspects of their life, and CIR’s activities actually addressed for the first time multiple spheres – work and social inclusion, health, legal status, accommodation. Second, I was convinced that in order to fight exploitation, it was absolutely necessary to press charges against the exploiters, otherwise the final purpose of the project would remain unfulfilled.
When I started working in the field and encountered the first cases of exploitation, however, I realized that things were just more complicated and lines more blurred than I initially thought. In fact, when exploited migrants decide to denounce their condition of exploitation and press charges against the employer or “caporale”, they make themselves extremely vulnerable to reprisals. In the situation when migrants remain to live and work in the same area, it is not difficult for exploiters to reach them and threaten or punish both them and their families. In the Sele Plain, exploiters who fear to be exposed or sued often break the migrants’ feet, in order to prevent them from running.
Unlike what happens to victims of human trafficking, who are relocated in a safe place where traffickers cannot reach them, victims of labor exploitation lack any sort of protection mechanism or facility that would make it safer for them to break the cycle of violence and denounce their conditions. The matter, here, is precisely the one of safety and protection – that cannot be guaranteed by NGOs but should be provided by the State.
This situation led me to process some serious reflections on the role of NGOs in the field; and therefore I ended up questioning my actions and responsibilities as a legal officer too. I wondered whether or not it is right to proceed with legal actions if this means putting at risk the life of the person you are trying to support. It goes without saying that I wanted the exploiters to be taken to trial and face the consequences of their illicit conducts. I knew that it is necessary to send a message – to say that exploiting migrant workers must not remain unpunished. Nevertheless, I had another question: at what cost?
This dilemma remained unresolved; the only thing we could do was to fully inform migrants of the possible risks and consequences of a lawsuit, but the ultimate decision remained theirs. The majority of the victims of exploitation within our project eventually decided not to pursue legal action against their exploiters.
It is important, thus, to understand which legal instruments regulate the rights of migrant workers in Europe and call for their protection; in this regard, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW) sets very important standards for the fair employment and treatment of migrant workers. In particular, art. 12(6) of the Convention establishes a simple, yet fundamental principle:
“Migrant workers and members of their families shall be entitled to effective protection by the state against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions”
The Convention affirms the right of migrant workers to be effectively protected by the state; and this protection should be particularly guaranteed in the case of migrants exposing criminal organizations and activities. Not only Italy has not ratified the Convention yet, but it also lacks a national grievance mechanism of protection for exploited migrant workers.
I believe CIR’s project was successful in supporting and easing exploited migrants’ social and work inclusion; however, a non-profit organization cannot grant, nor it should, protection from exploiters. I am convinced that what institutions have done so far is not enough. The ratification of the ICMW and its implementation at domestic level would shed light on this issue - and it needs to be done now, because the situation is alarming. In Salerno, we have supported 12 migrant workers who wanted to denounce their condition of exploitation. However, we have seen countless more, who suffer a situation of abandon by the State and whose rights are constantly violated.
 The Sele Plain is located near Salerno, in the region of Campania (southern Italy).
 In relation to migrant labor exploitation article 11 of the ICMW claims, for example, that no migrant worker or member of their family should be subjected to slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labor.