Pope joins author's call to end labor exploitation in printing industry

Migrants look out of a window of a rescue ship as it arrives in Trapani, on the island of Sicily, Italy, Aug. 9, 2015. In a letter published Aug. 12, 2021, Pope Francis joined Italian author Maurizio Maggiani after he called to end the exploitation of migrants in the printing industry. (CNS photo/Darrin Zammit Lupi, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) ─ People must have the courage to openly denounce injustice and the "perverse inner workings of exploitation" that harm human dignity, Pope Francis said.

"For a Christian, every form of exploitation is a sin," the pope told an Italian author in a letter published Aug. 12.

The pope's comments came after the author, Maurizio Maggiani, published an open letter addressed to Pope Francis Aug. 1, a few days after Italian authorities arrested 11 people connected with a large printing company on charges of exploitation, extortion, kidnapping and other accusations following a yearlong investigation.

Police found migrant workers were being hired legally through an agency, B.M. Services, which then subcontracted the workers to Grafica Veneta, the printing house. The workers were working up to 12 hours a day with no breaks, holidays or other labor protections, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. They were obligated to rent housing from the agency with up to 20 people accommodated per apartment.

When workers reached out to a union, they were allegedly beaten and kidnapped; in May 2020, one man was found along a roadside with his hands tied behind his back, which triggered the investigation.

Fabio Franceschi, president of Grafica Veneta, said he was "in the dark" about the workers' situation; he expressed his solidarity with them and pledged full cooperation with police. The Italian company prints the Harry Potter series and other bestsellers in Italy.

Maggiani wrote an open letter to the pope in a Sunday newspaper column for Il Secolo XIX, expressing his shame in discovering his and others' books were the result of exploitation. He asked the pope what authors should do and if writing and wanting to share the "richness of beauty" of culture had to come with the cost of using slave labor.

The pope responded to Maggiani with a letter dated Aug. 9, which was then published by a number of Italian papers Aug. 12.

The pope praised him for his courage in coming forward with a problem "many would have kept quiet about" and highlighted the importance of human dignity, which "today is too often and easily trampled upon through 'slave labor' and the complicit and deafening silence of many people."

The pope noted how hundreds of thousands of agricultural day-laborers were being exploited during the COVID-19 lockdowns so food could still get "to our tables" and here, "even literature -- the bread of souls, expressions that elevate the human spirit -- is wounded by the voracity of exploitation, which operates in the shadows, erasing faces and names."

"Publishing beautiful and edifying texts while creating injustices is in and of itself an unjust act," and the best reaction is to expose the injustice and not turn away or stop creating beauty, he wrote.

He encouraged Maggiani and all writers to take action against the use of slave labor to print books.

"The pen or the computer keyboard," he wrote, offers people the possibility of reporting or "denouncing, writing even uncomfortable things that can jolt us out of our indifference, to stimulate consciences."

Do not renounce producing works of culture or literature, but rather, denounce "structures of sin" and the "perverse inner workings of exploitation," which damage people's dignity, he wrote.

"It is a powerful sign to give up a position and comfort in order to make room" for those who do not have any standing, to say "'no' for a 'yes' that is greater," and to promote human dignity through conscientious objection, he wrote.

It is about showing that it is possible to have "a different economy" that respects people, the pope wrote.