Book printer raided in gangmaster investigation

Jo Francis
Tuesday, July 27, 2021

One of Europe’s biggest book printers has become embroiled in a ‘gangmaster’ scandal involving the exploitation and abuse of foreign workers.

A worker at Grafica Veneta inspects work in progress. Image: Grafica Veneta
A worker at Grafica Veneta inspects work in progress. Image: Grafica Veneta

Renowned Italian book printer Grafica Veneta has been named as a company where Pakistani workers supplied by a specialist contractor were being exploited, and paid €4.50 (£3.85) per hour for a 12-hour shift at the business. 

According to a report in TGR Veneto, the workers were supplied by BM Services in Trentino, which is run by two Pakistani citizens. BM Services specialises in packaging and finishing services of publishing products for third parties.

A dawn raid at Grafica Veneta’s premises in Padua near Venice was carried out by the police as a result of ‘Operation Pakarta’, which began investigations in May 2020 after a Pakistani individual was found bound and beaten at the side of a road.

“The details of how the workers lived, many of them just arrived in Italy, are gruesome. Picked up at dawn, they were brought back in the evening to two houses near the company, where they lived crowded and supervised. Those who rebelled against the system, making contact with the trade unions, were kidnapped, robbed of documents and cell phones and brutally beaten. This is the case of eleven findings on the roadsides between the provinces of Padua and Venice of Pakistani citizens gagged and with their hands tied behind their backs,” TGR Veneto stated.

Five Pakistani citizens are reportedly now in prison, while Grafica Veneta managing director Giorgio Bertan and security manager Giampaolo Pinton are said to be under house arrest.

In a statement posted to Instagram yesterday evening, Grafica Veneta president Fabio Franceschi said the firm was “completely unaware” of the gangmaster activities, and implied that other print firms could also find themselves caught up in the situation.

Translated from the original Italian, he said: “It is believed to highlight that the company that managed the contract is interested in other similar contracts not only in Veneto but also in other Regions of Northern Italy, in fact the performances of BM in favour of Grafica Veneta represent a very modest part of the total activity carried out by this company in the graphic sector.

“Grafica Veneta was completely unaware of what would seem to emerge from the investigation, and moreover the object of the objection to its officials concerns only and exclusively an alleged obstacle to the investigation, an obstacle that has never been posed by the company Grafica Veneta which instead intends to collaborate with the police and the judiciary to restore legality in the first place and therefore the truth.”

The firm prints for many UK publishers, with recent work including the Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus and Irish Dictionary. 

The situation appears likely to raise ESG (Environmental, Society and Governance) issues among clients. An industry source commented: “Most of the [UK] publishers shop with Grafica – ouch.” 

Grafica Veneta's huge 100,000sqm factory encompasses offset printing including nine web presses and two sheetfed models, as well as digital printing, and in-house binding. It handles runs from multi-millions to limited edition art books and overnight print-on-demand.

A spokesperson for Grafica Veneta told Printweek the firm would issue a further statement later today. 

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