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Ethical Consumers Fight The Mafia In Italy

To end a protection racket in Sicily, a group of businesses banded together to tell customers that they didn’t pay organized crime, so shopping there meant you weren’t, either.

Ethical Consumers Fight The Mafia In Italy

In 1876, Leopoldo Franchetti came to Palermo and saw a thriving city of citrus groves. But soon he discovered that the economy was based less on fruit than on extortion, backed up by murder. "After a certain number of these stories, the scent of orange and lemon blossom starts to smell of corpses," he wrote. It was an economy inextricably tied to the Mafia. He described it as "l’industria della violenza": the industry of violence.

Nearly 140 years later, the industry of violence remains. Last year a decade-long investigation revealed the Sicilian mafia in Palermo was working with Mexican drug cartels to bring cocaine into Europe. They also work on the small-business scale, extorting local retailers. The protection money is called pizzo, the Italian word for "beak," which the Mafia figuratively wets to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

But since 2004 there has been one visible sign of resistance: a growing number of businesses that advertise themselves as refusing to pay up. They go by the name of "Addiopizzo"—"goodbye pizzo"—and they now number over 800 in the city of Palermo alone.

The idea was born among seven friends who wanted to start a pub, but were discouraged by the burden of paying pizzo. They saw that where the Mafia had infiltrated the consumer economy, ethical consumerism was a means of fighting back. "We realized that a consumer is giving money to the mafia too as long as he or she accepts to live in a town, like Palermo, where most of the shops pay pizzo," says Addiopizzo co-founder Edoardo Zaffuto.

Zaffuto and his co-conspirators spent a harrowing night putting up stickers around town reading, in Italian, "A whole people who pays the pizzo is a people without dignity."

They worked in secret at first, but as they became more confident, they convinced 3,500 people to publicly pledge to shop only at pizzo-free businesses, and followed with a public list of businesses. Today, its member stores have Addiopizzo stickers on the doors, boldly declaring "Pago Chi Non Paga": I pay those who don’t pay.

They’ve inspired at least one group abroad: A German organization called "Mafia? Nein Danke!" "They even sent in Palermo for a couple of months one of their representatives in order to study the case of Addiopizzo and learn our know-how," says Zaffuto.

They’re also appealing to consumers outside Italy’s borders. A spin-off tour company called AddioPizzo Travel leads visitors to mafia-free businesses. "We give the travelers the guarantee that not a single cent of what they will spend in Sicily during their vacation will finance the Mafia," says Zaffuto.

Next on the agenda is creating an "Addiopizzo card" to inspire customer loyalty, and make it more attractive for new businesses to join. "The day when every shop owner will refuse to pay pizzo, the Mafia will be extremely weak because nobody will accept to recognize their authority," says Zaffuto. "They would have no control over the territory and no power over the people any more: that day will be very close to the end of the Mafia."