Prato, Italy: Today’s emigrant workers
Prato is an interesting case of modern Chinese labor migration. Where waves of unschooled Chinese workers flocked to work at the American Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s or the southeast Asian sugar plantations in the 1870s, in the last 20 years a modern equivalent of such workers has migrated to the textile factories in Prato.
Made in Italy, by Chinese
For 800 years, since the days that Marco Polo traveled to China, Prato has been a stronghold of the famous Italian textile industry. Today however, Prato counts more Chinese garment manufacturers than Italian ones. Around 3,200 Chinese garment workshops in Prato are making clothes, shoes and accessories for low-end and midprice retailers worldwide. As a result, Prato has the largest concentration of Chinese in Europe.
Most of the Prato Chinese come from Wenzhou (Zhejiang) and many of them are illegal. Because of their cheap labor and imported materials from China, the Chinese workshops have been able to undercut the Italian Prato competition, resulting in social and economic tensions with local populations reminiscent of the ones in the US and southeast Asia in the previous century.
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