"Made In Italy" Is Italian For "Made In Sweatshops"

That $1,500 Prada bag may have been stitched by an illegal Chinese immigrant slaving away in a Tuscan factory. The tentacles of globalization are starting to snake dirt-cheap foreign laborers into once-protected enclaves known for their quality swag.

According to the L.A. Times, the Sino-Italian job takes three forms:

  • Straight up counterfeiters who slap brand names on cheap knockoffs.
  • Importers who ship shoes and bags from Asia to Italy for an extra buckle and the “Made In Italy” label.
  • Factory owners who use illegal Chinese workers to make nominally Italian goods.

Should a “Made In” label be a straightforward declaration of origin or a broader indicator of quality and craftsmanship?

For the big-name clothing labels, Chinese-staffed workshops provide an important way of keeping costs down by supplying cheaply and quickly made purses, shoes and other products. It helps the fashion houses compete and, many argue, it’s better than the alternative: moving all production offshore.

But for legions of Italian craftsmen and -women who try to maintain painstaking but costly old-style practices, the cheaper Chinese labor is deadly.

“It’s a crazy competition. In fact, you can’t compete,” said Andrea Calistri, whose third-generation family business has been making handbags for top designers from voluptuous leather and buttery suede for more than half a century.

There is nothing wrong with production lines, foreign workers, or competition. We don’t labor under delusions that pricey Italian wares are painstakingly crafted by hand, but that’s exactly what Calistri wants you to think. He has rounded up a posse of 65 businesses that are calling themselves “100% Italian.”

” ‘Made in Italy,’ ” he said, “means tradition, know-how and standards. . . . It means not only made in Italy, but made in the Italian way.”

Yes, the “Italian way,” whatever it is.

The ‘Made in Italy’ label: Read the fine print [L.A. Times]
(AP Photo/Greg Baker)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.