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

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe 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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs