ALL TOGETHER NOW
When I first arrived in Glasgow from Italy, I was impressed by the large number of Italian products sold in supermarkets and restaurants. Tomatoes products got especially my attention, shops are full of these labeled “Product of Italy” – “Italian tomatoes” and most of the time without cites the provenience. As an ethical consumer myself, I knew about forms of human slavery behind the agriculture sector, particularly tomatoes. Do people in the UK, and in general, know about this topic? Is there some action in place?
Thus, I decided to do my master’s project and research about ethical trade and consumption and the problem of ‘Caporalato,’ a gangmaster system in the Italian agriculture sector. Especially in the agriculture of fruits and vegetables; tomatoes are a large part of it. Italy is one of the biggest producers of tomatoes globally, and the first producer of processed tomatoes, 70% in the entire world, is Italian. The biggest importers are UK, Germany, and France, and according to various reports, 50% of Italian tomato products are not Caporalato free.
Farmers often look to ‘Caporali’ for help finding seasonal workers during harvesting and most of them are migrants from Africa, East Europe, and India illegally employed and exploited in intensive farming.
So what did I do?
The idea includes a food ID system, protected by blockchain, that will act as data protection and verification. The main aim is to monitor the product and give its accountability. A platform (app) will act as a medium for all the actors and provide awareness, empowerment, and knowledge.
Some service features are anonymity to protect the workers’ identity, a way to refer farms, the possibility of language settings/translations, and active participation to change the status quo.
It consists of the interactions of my personas at different stages. The person from the organisation and other actors will sponsor the food ID initiative to farmers, map all the places of interest, and continue checking in the fields. The worker gets to know about the service through word of mouth, and later he can refer a farm for exploitation, know his rights or do a “call to action”. The insider can check IDs and participate in a “call to action”, same for the citizen who can also learn about food systems. The main goal is to continuously check in the fields and social transformations with community action.
To avoid the App being abused by gangmasters, there will not be a rating system on products and farms, rather, it will be based on the accountability and verified actions/referrals on them. The community/call to action is monitored by the staff and to help establish that someone is who they say they are, user identification will be in place and rely on out-of-band proofing on other channels.
How: Ethnographic Research
To understand how this problem is perceived and dealt with in the UK, I went to various supermarkets and local shops, their websites or pages, to check on tomatoes products and their whereabouts.
- Lack of information or transparency of suppliers
- Conflicts between parties
Knowing who’s involved, I interviewed local shops in Glasgow to understand their ways of doing and the ethical considerations of these products. In particular, I wanted to hear more about the story behind the choice and their access to alternative sourced food.
- Passing the buck of responsibility
- Easy trust in suppliers
- Actions in the hand of few
- Lack of a platform and interaction with the source of a product
To learn more about the daily lives and environment of consumers while buying a tomato product, I designed a digital cultural probe, where open-ended activities were given to a group of participants living in the UK.
- Unknown phenomenon
- Ignoring it
- Lack of confidence
Non-participatory online ethnography
To gather insights from some of the essential stakeholders that I couldn’t reach, I started to ask myself, as a consumer, where I first discovered this case of exploitation: Instagram. Consequently, I decided to observe social interactions within the online community around the topic of Caporalato.
- Workers are not considered
- Inspections from authorities are not enough
- Unknown workers rights due to language barriers
- Struggle to engage with all the actors
The first goal was to test the concept’s validity, through the Fast Generation Ideas tool, I engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the participants, asking them to use a different approach to tackle the same concept.
Using a 1:1 interview, the second goal was to change some of my biases about the type and amount of engagement from consumers-citizens.
- Anonymity for workers
- Emergency call button
- Different ways to engage, low – medium
The long-term goal is to influence, shape, and inform the market, government policies, and society’s approach to food systems. To be part of active participation with different levels of engagement tailored to everyone’s needs and possibilities and in contact with the source of our food. The aim is to start with the tomato sector and spread the system to all the agriculture fields with time, as the service system has replication features.
Viability & Impact
I used the design-led, system-wide innovation approach to map the values created across the system. The viability and impact of “All Together Now” lies on the possibility to:
Person: To be part of a change, giving guidance and confidence.
Service: Bring people together and monitoring the whole process.
System: Have different levels of engagement and continuous workplaces check—the possibility of system replication.
Society: Bring awareness and food knowledge among society. Support the cause with long-term sustainability as there will be always an exchange of people on the platform.
I would have liked to have the time to develop my project further as aspects of the idea development and implementation of the system service can be refined. My ethics as a designer didn’t let me further develop the traceable system. This part must be co-designed with critical stakeholders such as social enterprises, organizations, farms, workers, etc., so that it can achieve a more tangible and inclusive service. Everyone’s knowledge is required and needed to develop it successfully and engage with more people. Moreover, in the long term, without future support from the local and central government, it would be unfeasible to “All Together Now” be effective in full and to expand it to other sectors and products.
Award: GSA Sustainability Degree Show Prize 2021 – Runner Up