News / Europe

Ancient Italian Town Turns Against Chinese Migrants

Authorities say many Chinese are working in sweatshop-like conditions that break European laws, and that many businesses don't pay taxes
Authorities say many Chinese are working in sweatshop-like conditions that break European laws, and that many businesses don't pay taxes

Multimedia

Henry Ridgwell

An estimated 40,000 Chinese, both legal residents and illegals, are living in the Italian town of Prato, not far from Florence. They constitute a quarter of the town's population and are one of the biggest concentrations of Chinese in Europe. Most come from one town in China, Wenzhou near Shanghai.  Nearly all are involved in manufacturing textiles and cheap clothes on a huge scale - producing up to one million garments a day. In recent months, tensions in Prato between Italian residents and the Chinese have spiked with accusations that the migrants aren't playing by the rules.

A simple Italian phrase explains why so many Chinese have come to Prato.  It's "Pronto Moda" or Fast Fashion.  

A sprawling industrial zone on the edge of town has dyeing factories, workshops and warehouses. From here, cheap clothes made by the Chinese, but with the all-important "Made in Italy" label, are shipped across the world.

Financial journalist Silvia Perrachi has written about how Chinese immigrants have taken over industry in Prato.  

"Today, the Chinese industry in Prato actually contains the entire supply chain - from buying the fabrics in China, importing them into Italy, cutting them, dyeing them, assembling the pieces and selling them directly to the retail outlets," Perrachi noted.

When the first Chinese arrived here 30 years ago, they were welcomed as new investors. Now Prato is turning against the Chinese. Once clearly left wing, the town swung to the right and the anti-immigrant Northern League in last year's municipal elections.  

Tensions have been escalating ever since a series of police raids on factories allegedly employing illegal immigrants. Authorities say many Chinese are working in sweatshop-like conditions that break European laws, and that many businesses don't pay taxes.

VOA obtained photographs, taken earlier this year inside one factory. None of the factory owners allowed VOA to film in their workshops.

VOA also tried to speak with a distributor. She refused to speak on camera, but said the Chinese community is living in fear.  

Prato's Mayor is Roberto Cenni. His family has a long history in textiles. He says the raids were justified.

"The figures from May this year show that we had to close 154 factories for illegal activity," noted Cenni.  "And to close a company it means there were illegal activities of a grave nature - criminal acts. So it's clear we need a definitive answer to this situation."

Many Chinese here say the raids were staged to appease right-wing media and politicians. They say they are the victims of discrimination.

Lin Xia has lived in Prato for 20 years and has built a small business empire. He spoke to us in Italian.

"I understand there is a need to regulate this industry, but I'm not happy about the way they're doing it," he said.  "For example when they close the factories, it's not being done legally. They arrest the illegal immigrants and release them after a few hours but they aren't allowed back into their homes for a month. So they're left on the street with nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep."

Prato's history in textiles stretches back centuries; it even has a museum devoted to textiles. But as Italian companies have struggled, the Chinese have prospered. Italian businessmen here believe the Chinese are exploiting Prato's reputation.

Maurizio Bonas set up the organization 'Made in Italy' to protect the image of Italian goods. He says every nation must fight to protect its culture.

"We have to defend the factories in Europe," said Bonas.  "We have to defend the people who are working here. We must not keep thinking of helping the others and to not see what is happening in our home."

In many ways Prato is a microcosm of the challenges facing Europe: an historic place with proud traditions, now threatened by new ways in a changing world.

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More