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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs