Pope urges fight against ex­ploita­tion in Italy’s ‘Chi­na­town’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PRATO, Italy: Pope Fran­cis yes­ter­day urged Italy’s tex­tile city of Prato, home to a large Chi­nese com­mu­nity with wide­spread il­le­gal sweat­shops, to fight ex­ploita­tion, il­le­gal­ity and cor­rup­tion. Thou­sands of peo­ple lined the streets of the Tus­can city to hear the Ar­gen­tine pon­tiff, who ar­rived by he­li­copter for a light­ning visit, ad­dress­ing the crowds from the cathe­dral’s fa­mous bal­cony, de­signed by Re­nais­sance sculp­tor Donatello. Ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of na­tion­al­ity, de­serves “re­spect, in­clu­sion and a de­cent job,” Fran­cis said, ap­plaud­ing the lo­cals for their“con­stant ef­forts to in­te­grate ev­ery­one”into their com­mu­nity.

How­ever, “the life of every com­mu­nity re­quires we fight to the last the can­cer of cor­rup­tion... and poi­son of il­le­gal­ity”.

The pon­tiff paid trib­ute to the vic­tims of a fire which be­came a sym­bol of the city’s dan­ger­ous sweat­shops, de­scrib­ing it as “a tragedy born of ex­ploita­tion and in­hu­mane liv­ing con­di­tions”. The deadly blaze in a gar­ment fac­tory at the end of 2013 killed seven peo­ple who had been liv­ing and sleep­ing in close quar­ters in­side the work­shop and who were trapped in­side by bars on the win­dows.

Fran­cis urged lo­cals not to “re­sign your­self in front of ap­par­ently dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions of co­ex­is­tence” with Chi­nese gar­ment work­ers in the city, where nu­mer­ous Ital­ian firms have been forced to close up shop, un­able to com­pete. The 78-year-old pon­tiff, who was head­ing off to ad­dress Ital­ian bish­ops in Florence, toured the cathe­dral square in his pope­mo­bile as pil­grims wav­ing the Vat­i­can’s yel­low and white flag cheered in the sun­shine.

‘A model city’

Prato is of­fi­cially home to over 16,000 Chi­nese na­tion­als out of a to­tal of 191,000 in­hab­i­tants. But lo­cal sources say the real fig­ure could be as high as 50,000 — close to a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion.

In the sub­urb around Via Pis­toiese, shop signs are writ­ten in both Man­darin and Ital­ian. Some among even the third-gen­er­a­tion res­i­dents, born and raised here, do not know the lan­guage of Dante. They have re­vi­talised a flag­ging tex­tile in­dus­try, though Ital­ians quib­ble with their method: Chi­nese work­ers churn out clothes made of cheap im­ported cloth and the com­pa­nies can legally sell them with the “Made in Italy” la­bel.

“Each week we try and visit 20 Chi­nese busi­nesses, we ex­plain what the rules are in terms of se­cu­rity, en­vi­ron­ment and book­keep­ing... we help them to un­der­stand and abide by the law,”Wang Li Ping, head of CNA World China, said. Luca Giusti, Pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber of Com­merce of Prato, said the Chi­nese work­ers rep­re­sent “un­fair com­pe­ti­tion be­cause they don’t re­spect the rules,” and en­cour­age a dan­ger­ous drop in stan­dards in labour con­di­tions.

He ad­mits, how­ever, that the com­mu­nity is worth “be­tween 9.0 and 10 per­cent” of the city’s Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct. Prato’s young mayor Mat­teo Bif­foni knows he has an un­en­vi­able task in try­ing to crack down on the il­le­gal sweat­shops, which more of­ten than not spring up again else­where mere weeks af­ter they are closed by po­lice. But he in­sisted change is hap­pen­ing thanks to the ef­forts made by the younger gen­er­a­tions and says his aim is for Prato to be­come “a model city on a national level” in terms of in­te­gra­tion. —AFP

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