To the editor:
In the Tuscan city of Prato, Italy, there are nearly 5,000 workshops run by Chinese entrepreneurs turning out cheap clothing for the fast-fashion companies of Italy and Europe.
Many of these workers sleep in their factories and work more than 14 hours a day under sweatshop conditions. Prato, considered the historical capital of Italy’s textile business, has attracted the largest concentration of Chinese-owned industries in Europe within less than 20 years.
It is estimated that as many as 50,000 Chinese live and work in the area, making clothes bearing the prized “made in Italy” label, which sets them apart from garments produced in China itself, even at the lower end of the fashion business.
Prato is only about 16 miles from the beautiful Renaissance jewel of Florence, which has also become a hub of illegal activity committed by both Italian and Chinese nationals. This scenario, yet another extreme example of lax immigration policy, border control and of “globalization gone wrong.”
Local authorities estimate that two-thirds of the Chinese immigrants living in Prato are illegal aliens. They work and live under horrible conditions in Chinese-owned factories, which are rented out by Italian businessmen who own the buildings, are breaking various laws, and bribing local government officials.
This illegality includes smuggling fabrics from China, tax evasion, and gross violations of Italian health and labor laws.
Most of Prato’s hardworking Chinese came from the coastal city of Wenzhou province in the mid-1990s, working or Italian-owned textile factories who were trained and quickly learned the entire production process.
Despite human rights violations, President Clinton allowed China entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, which erased most of the sensible EU trade barriers that protected its manufactures from slave labor competition.
As Italian-owned companies specializing in high-quality fabric lost ground and cut jobs to compete with cheaper imports, Chinese entrepreneurs started renting their abandoned factories and warehouses.
They now dominate most of the industry, exporting millions of dollars of low-cost garments across the continent worth more than 2 billion euros a year.
These Chinese workshops have labor, cost and time advantages over their rivals in both Europe and even China itself, which takes more than 40 days to manufacture and shop their garments to Europe. Part of the Italian law enforcement problem is that more than 60 percent of Chinese sweatshops last only about two years, close, and then reopen under a different company name and address to evade both health, worker inspections, and taxes.
The small percentage of illegal immigrants caught by the police are ordered to leave Italy within five days, but there is no way of making sure they actually do so. Most arrive on three-month tourist visas, but usually stay in Italy for many years until they have enough money to return home.
So once again, we have another example of economic and social upheaval caused by the sickly combination of incompetent big government policies and disgusting individual criminal and corporate greed.
All of which makes independent moderate conservative voters like myself wonder if we all (Americans and Italians) are just gullible fools believing that someday the system will actually work for us.