Sunday, August 5, 2007

China Migration Four

From the BBC:

Italy struggles with Chinese migrants

In cities across Italy tension between the Chinese and Italians is high. The rapid influx of Chinese migrant workers and their dramatic impact on the labour market have caught Italy off guard - particularly in the northern industrial heartland.

Culture clash

Prato, Italy's main textile manufacturing city, is at the heart of a culture clash which is transforming the way the textile industry operates.

Chinese migrants have been pouring into Prato to work in the city's thousands of factories, warehouses and sweatshops that supply the cloth and yarns to the Italian fashion industry. Today Prato has the largest Chinese community in the country - about 25,000 people, nearly 15% of the city's population.

And the authorities are worried.

"Many of the Chinese here are 'clandestini' - illegal. We have big difficulties catching them. And since they arrived, crime in the city has risen," says Francesco Nannucci, the head of investigations at the Prato police.

The police patrol Prato's Chinatown every day - an area full of Chinese shops, services and restaurants. Nearly all of them have sprung up in the last few years.

On one raid, ten undocumented Chinese workers were discovered in a side-street sweatshop, machine-sewing clothes.

There was a child present, beds, a bathroom and a kitchen. They slept, cooked, worked and brought up their children in this small warehouse.

Global transformation

Up to a third of Italy's Chinese immigrants could be illegal.

But it's not only that fact preoccupying the authorities: it is how they work.

They are transforming the way the textile industry in Italy operates and bringing globalization to a reluctant Italian market.

In the industrial zones on the edges of Prato, thousands of Chinese are employed in the city's factories and warehouses - many of them now owned by Chinese bosses.

Most of them come from one city in China, Wenzhou, in the province of Zhejiang, just south of Shanghai - also a textile manufacturing region.

They come to Italy in one of two ways: by being smuggled here by criminal gangs or by arriving as tourists and overstaying their visas.

Prato - along with Rome, Naples and Milan - are the target cities.

It's where the work is and where there are established Chinese networks to absorb newcomers.

"My whole family is here: my uncle, aunt, mother, father and sister" 18 year old Cheng explains, standing amongst racks of thousands of T-shirts, skirts, trousers and dresses.

"We work very hard," he boasts. "Sometimes day and night!"

Pronto moda

In the workshop at the back of the warehouse Cheng and his family toil away to produce these clothes in as short a time as possible, as cheaply as possible.

They can undercut the prices - and the wages - of their Italian counterparts. They may be paid as little as 2 euros an hour (£1.50), and 20 dresses might be produced for only 150 euros wholesale.

The clothes are bought by sellers from all over Italy and the rest of Europe.

Prato has become a main distribution centre for what is called "Pronto Moda" or "fast fashion".

This is a Chinese invention: ' made in Italy' goods produced under Chinese conditions.

Prato has also become a centre for the import of cheap clothing from China itself.

Hard times

Over the last decade Italy has suffered some hard economic knocks.

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