As Adl Cobas we are contacting you concerning a story about forced labour, exploitation and overt racism by Grafica Veneta. Grafica Veneta is a large printing company based in Veneto that prints millions of books for major publishing houses worldwide. Workers have been working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, with no vacation, sick leave or days off. After contacting a trade union, some workers were physically abused. An investigation began when one of these workers was found with hands tied and dumped on the roadside. The exploitation was uncovered, with several high profile arrests.
We ask you to publish this article, give visibility to this story, and send it to journalists and news outlets. Also, please share with any public figures who you believe will take a stand against Grafica Veneta.
On 26 July 2021, Padua’s Prosecutor made several arrests, including some high-profile personalities. He put eleven people under preventive measures, including Giorgio Bertan and Giampaolo Pinto, respectively the CEO and a technical manager of the printing house Grafica Veneta, owned by Fabio Franceschi and having 800 employees in Italy and the United States. The BM Service’s owners Arshad Mahmood Badar and his son Abdullah are among the eleven people put under preventive measures. The two have Pakistani origins but have acquired Italian citizenship. BM Service works as a contractor for Grafica Veneta and other printing houses. BM Service’s employees were all from Pakistan. They worked in Grafica Veneta’s factory in Trebaseleghe, in the Province of Padua.
The Prosecutor’s investigations began in May 2020, when a Pakistani citizen was found tied and wounded at a country road, the same fate other BM Service workers had encountered. The investigators discovered that this was how some of the BM Service workers were punished for contacting a trade union after having long endured the bosses’ harassment and appalling working conditions. The Pakistani workers toiled for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with no days off, no vacations, no sick leave, constantly under the control of their tormentors. In addition, BM Service withheld 120 euros from their monthly wage in exchange for sleeping in 3-people bedrooms in a house rented by the company.
Padua’s Prefecture organized several negotiations between the unions and the concerned firms. As a result, on 15 September 2021, Grafica Veneta agreed to hire the 27 BM Service workers who had remained jobless after the arrests, as demanded by their trade union. Meanwhile, Grafica Veneta’s managers Bertan and Pinto had settled with the judges for a six-month jail sentence turned into a fine of about 45,000 euros and compensation of 20,000 euros to each of the 11 workers who had suffered from violence at the bosses’ hands. The Grafica Veneta managers had admitted their responsibilities to receive a lighter sentence and exit the criminal proceeding by pleading guilty. In their sentence, the judges clarified that the defendants have recognized the accusations against them were correct.
On 16 September, the day when the parties involved should have finalized the agreement sponsored by the Prefecture, Grafica Veneta’s lawyer Spata declared, with extreme embarrassment, that there would be no agreement, as the lawyers working on the criminal case had imposed that no union agreement could be reached until the end of the plea bargaining procedure, scheduled for around October 20. However, Grafica Veneta was “generous” enough to offer 700 euros to the 27 BM Service workers in exchange for freezing any initiative of a union or judicial nature. Grafica Veneta knew very well that the trade unions would have never accepted this offer. Clearly, this decision aimed at dumping the workers permanently, using their poverty to blackmail them and make accomplice the trade unions in the defensive strategy of the company.
Grafica Veneta – a story of exploitation, lies and racial hatred
Fabio Franceschi has finally revealed his true self: a liar and racist boss. His aberrant statements appeared in newspapers such as Il Gazzettino, Libero and la Stampa following the plea bargaining of two of his managers in connection with the caporalato (forced labour) within Grafica Veneta. He clearly felt free to say what he thought of the workers of BM Services employed within his company and who were subjected to severe exploitation (shifts from 12 hours a day for 27/28 days a month), extortion, threats and violence. In his view, these workers, paid 4/5 euros per hour, are not victims but fraudsters who wanted to extort a job from Grafica Veneta. Even the violence captured in the photo of the worker with hands tied and dumped on the roadside was allegedly staged. Franceschi says to the journalist of La Stampa: “But did you see them? They had masks on their faces to slander us and their arms stretched out behind them “. The fact that twenty people lived in a house where they paid 120 euros per head each month to BM Services (for which the rent would be 800 euros per month in total) was also denied. Franceschi said their living conditions “weren’t bad” since, according to him, “they are a bit like that, cleanliness and beauty are not part of their culture”.
And here comes the true racist soul of the Veneto padrone. Like Black workers on plantations, Pakistani workers were fine as long as they kept their heads down and worked without saying anything and accepting what they were given. When they dared to claim their rights, when they asked to be treated like any other Veneto citizen, like any human being, they began to challenge the racist order of Grafica Veneta. Because this is what racism is: stereotypes, unfounded culturalisms, lies and a sense of superiority aimed at dividing and segmenting society and workers. In short, Pakistanis cannot expect to be treated like Italians. Franceschi tells us that if serfdom can’t be accepted, he will only hire Italians, or better, people originally from Veneto. “With Italians, there are no problems”, Franceschi said, but with foreigners, there are. “There are foreigners who have rented houses in the past, but now they don’t pay the condominium fees, and it is impossible to send them away. Our territory is somewhat traumatized by this kind of presence. We don’t feel like hiring people who don’t live here because ours is like a family”.
For Franceschi, nothing happened inside Grafica Veneta, and his valuable managers must return to their place. For him, the matter is closed, and the plea bargaining is a minor nuisance made only not to wait for the times of justice. For us, the case is not at all closed with plea bargaining. We have always said it: the union affair is another story. Having said that, we cannot fail to emphasize how this procedural choice is equivalent to an admission of guilt, given that in the face of a crime as infamous as that of caporalato (forced labour), anyone who is sure of his innocence would be interested in being judged. The story is not closed, and in the coming days, we will come back to say it firmly, claiming the hiring of BM Services workers, remembering that this is what Grafica Veneta promised a month ago before the Prefect of Padua.
It is not possible to dismiss the words of Franceschi, president of a giant of the cultural industry, as a rant, perhaps justifying them with the stereotype of the ignorant Veneto. It is unacceptable that those who have been severely exploited in the past today find themselves denigrated and blamed by those who have benefited from the severe exploitation through the procurement system.
It is not acceptable that the institutions, Veneto Region in the first place, do not say a word about what happened in Grafica Veneta and about the racist statements of Franceschi.
As a trade union, we ask all workers of Grafica Veneta not to accept racism. We ask publishers, writers, and the entire world of culture to speak out and put pressure on the company.
Our struggle for justice does not stop.