BAT – “Hero” of Italian Agriculture

An interesting piece of news, sent out by press agencies and promptly reported by newspapers, is traveling around the peninsula and the islands: British American Tobacco is going to buy twenty million euro’s worth of Italian tobacco a year for the next two years.

The announcement was made by the vice president of BAT Italia, Giovanni Carucci, during the Confagricoltura Forum of Taormina, where, if we can believe the newspapers, this man of Big Tobacco seems to have been the absolute protagonist of the event.

Why all the excitement about the purchase of a modest quantity of tobacco, paid at market prices? Twenty million euro corresponds to about 3% of BAT’s turnover in Italy and less than 4% of the Italian tobacco cultivation; in the tobacco market it is only a bit of change. Why is everyone licking the ass of the multinational, and why is no one doing anything for the workers of the production plants that BAT closed, like those in Lecce and in Bologna, whose workers are still in the middle of the street because the company is not keeping its promises?

“BAT investe sull’Italia” (BAT is investing in Italy) printed the agencies. “Gruppo BAT rilancia gli acquisti in Italia” (The BAT Group is relaunching its purchases in Italy) headlined Italy’s main financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore. Everybody is praising BAT, a “great company.” Carucci, speaking to an audience of ignoramuses who do not even know that the cigarettes that we buy in our tobacco shops are 99% imported, spoke about the economic loss “for our country” in case of a crisis of the tobacco production chain in Italy; a production chain made up of “farmers, producers, distributors and tobacconists” – but the producers, as the BAT vice president knows very well, have all gone abroad.

At the forum in Taormina, in the presence of the top executives of the sector along with ministers like the minister of economic development Passera and political VIPs Alfano, Bersani and Casini, the performance of British American Tobacco, “benefactor and pro-Italian,” according to the newspapers, was the highlight of the meeting. One almost has the impression that by smoking MS cigarettes, he is thanking BAT for all the company is doing and has done for the country.

Bersani, Alfano, Casini

Bersani, Alfano, Casini

The purchase of Italian tobacco is an insignificant business compared to profits of over 2 billion euro, tax-free, that the three cigarette multinationals divide up every year. And yet in this country of servants, there is always someone doing all he can so that these companies can continue doing whatever they please.

Every year the Ministry of Agricultural Policies (MIPAF), the Coldiretti, the FIT (Federazione Italiana Tabaccai) and a whole galaxy of associations, universities, foundations and lobbyists, in exchange for a bit of change, arrange congresses, conferences, articles and studies in which they emphasize the role of one or another of the multinationals as benefactors of Italian agriculture, all with the active participation of the politicians, ministers and undersecretaries of the period, of any political lineup.

Lecce and Bologna: BAT Sacks and the State Pays

In the Lecce cigarette factory, acquired in 2005 by BAT following the privatization of the ETI, 500 workers used to make MS cigarettes; that was before the delocalization and the final closure of the plant in December 2010. More than a year has passed since the agreement signed at the Ministry for the conversion of the plant, and nothing has been done; the agreement seems to have been forgotten by everyone – except the workers.

The BAT workers’ protest at the Manifattura Tabacchi di Lecce

The BAT workers’ protest at the Manifattura Tabacchi di Lecce

“What remains to be clarified is the final outcome of this murky event,” so said the Member of Parliament Teresa Bellanova of the Democratic Party, “This multinational must be asked for ethical responsibility and respect for an agreement it has signed because it had guaranteed its full implementation. Up to today, unfortunately this result continues to be light years away.”

In Bologna they are still protesting for the failure to respect the agreements made when the plant was closed in July 2008. BV Tech has been funded with 335 thousand euro in these years by the Province and the Region to organize training courses (currently in the hands of the judiciary) for the ex-BAT workforce. So far it has absorbed only 12 workers and has notified the prospects of mobility for the rest of them, still today on redundancy pay. Last year BV Tech, heedless of the agreements, announced the closure of the Bologna site and extraordinary redundancy for all the other ex-workers.

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