Ever worried that “fairtrade” may be just a label, camouflaging unspeakable exploitation and corruption beneath flimsy ethical sticking-plaster? If so, the latest Human Rights Watch report on South Africa’s booming wine industry will have confirmed your worst suspicions. HRW would have us believe the Paarl and Stellenbosch we glug so freely is produced by workers living in pig-sty conditions.
So where should the ethically squeamish turn for food and drink of unimpeachable integrity?
Fear not: I have the answer. Out with that Stellenbosch and in with Placido Rizzotto, a wine made exclusively from grapes grown on a mafia don’s confiscated vineyard.
And if Rizzotto (named after a famous Sicilian union leader bumped off by the mob in 1948) isn’t to your taste, then how about some bottles of Calabrian olive oil, or Pugliese breadsticks?
All courtesy of a consortium called Libera Terra (Free Land), set up in the last decade to farm the estates of convicted mobsters.
Libera Terra’s success has been based on a simple proposition. However delicious those sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, mozarella and focaccia, you can never be quite sure where they come from. Organized crime has its grubby paws on quite a lot of the Italian organic food industry. Particularly in the south, home of Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.
Legislation passed about 13 years ago has begun to change all of that. Organisations like Libera Terra were encouraged to come forward and exploit confiscated mafia estates for social benefit. Something like 4,500 estates (not all of them farms – villas and apartments as well) have been expropriated and passed into the hands of student cooperatives during that time.
Libera Terra acts not only as a kind of kitemark, offering quality and ethical reassurance, but also as a marketing agency for groups of approved co-operatives.
The latest financial update to come my way suggests a turnover of about $6m. A figure the more remarkable given that it has been achieved in the teeth of torched mafia-free vineyards, vandalised farm equipment and systematic intimidation by the relatives of jailed mafiosi.
All very well, you say, but where do you get this stuff? Ah. Until recently distribution has been confined to Italy – mainly through specialist outlets, but one or two supermarkets as well.
Now, however, Libera Terra is branching out, with a marketing push in the rest of Europe. I gather Germany is the principal target. The Germans are so right-on about these things that they have published a list of 400 Sicilian businesses which refuse to pay the pizzo (mafia protection money). The idea is to give German tourists the option of shopping only at places that don’t line mafiosi pockets.
Whether Britain is also in Libera Terra’s sights I have no idea. For those who can’t wait to eat their pizza minus pizzo, I suggest tackling the organisations’s website, where a number of products can be bought direct (although only by businesses it seems).