NYT slams “exploitation” in Italian fashion industry

Inside Italy’s shadow economy.

An investigative report by New York Times writers Elizabeth Paton and Milena Lazazzera this week claimed to expose near-sweatshop conditions for seamstresses working for such major brands as Max Mara and Fendi – both exhibiting in this week’s Milano Moda Donna.

The report, headlined “Inside Italy’s Shadow Economy”, is based on interviews with workers in Italy’s deep-south Puglia region, working from home, paid starvation wages and with no contract or social contributions – working “in nero”.

According to the daily’s investigation, thousands of women are paid just €1 for every metre of fabric sewn, or €1.50-€2.00 per hour for embroidering sequins for world-renowned fashion brands.

One woman interviewed told the reporters that “the unregulated work she completes in her apartment is outsourced to her from a local factory that also manufactures outerwear for some of the best-known names in the luxury business, including Louis Vuitton and Fendi.”

“The alleged efforts by some luxury brands and lead suppliers to lower costs without undermining quality,” states the article, “have taken a toll on those on those operating at the very bottom of the industry.”

When contacted by the New York Times, the reporters say, LVMH declined to comment for the story. A spokesman for MaxMara emailed the following statement: “MaxMara considers an ethical supply chain a key component of the company’s core values reflected in our business practice,” adding that an investigation was now under way.

A spokeswoman for Abiti Puliti anti-sweatshop advocacy group told the investigators that “the fact that many Italian luxury brands outsource the bulk of manufacturing, rather than use their own factories, has created a status quo where exploitation can easily fester — especially for those out of union or brand sightlines.”

Carlo Capasa, recently re-elected president of Italy’s National Fashion Chamber trade association, described the article as “shameful and misleading”.  The writers had attacked leading brands “in an ignoble manner”, said Capasa, adding that lawyers were drafting a joint protest note on behalf of the brands quoted.

Puglia has long been in headlines over caporalato – the exploitation of foreign seasonal workers living in dire conditions and employed for meagre wages in the agricultural sector.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times