The 57-year-old Nicos Vangelatos, one of the largest strawberry producers in Greece, has been implicated in the shootings of 29 immigrant workers on his strawberry farm in Manolada in the Peloponnese in Greece, an incident that led to calls for a boycott of his products which were quickly called “Blood Strawberries,” because of what critics said was a similar exploitation of workers as those toiling for African Blood Diamonds.
Vangelatos, along with his two sons, runs a fruit company that reportedly trades 50 percent of the imported bananas and produces more than 3,000 tons of strawberries on 1,000 acres. But the immigrants who work for him said they hadn’t been paid in six months and that when they demanded their salaries that they were fired upon by supervisors.
In 1985, Vangelatos started investing in bananas importation from Latin America and in fruits and vegetables wholesale. At the end of the last decade he turned to strawberry cultivation. He also built a packaging plant and five modern pre-cooling and preservation chambers in the Greek regional unit Achaea in order to export strawberries worldwide. This is how the fields are rented for the strawberry cultivation.
In 2012, he sowed three strawberry varieties in 650 acres, while in 2013 the cultivation reached 1.000 acres. The production rates more than 3.000 tons, about 40 percent of which are traded in Greek supermarkets, while the rest are exported to Russia, Italy, Romania, Moldavia and Estonia among other countries.
Vangelatos lives in Athens and the only participation in Ilia’s matters of public interest was an advertisement he had put at the local team’s football field.
The Strawberry Wild West
Shortly after the shooting incident, police arrested Vangelatos and two days later managed to locate and arrest the three supervisors. Vangelatos complained of being ill and was taken to the hospital.
The shooting wasn’t the first time there was trouble on his farm. One of the foremen reportedly caused serious injury in August 2012 to an Egyptian worker who was demanding his wages. The foreman, who was sitting in a car, drove off while the laborer’s hand was trapped in the vehicle’s window, it was charged.
The police department in Amaliada reported that Vangelatos “has employed many Bangladeshi citizens in his strawberry cultivation fields, who were living in the country either legally or illegally. He has made the agreement of €22 per day with them, exploiting their desperate financial situation; he delayed to give their wages for a long time and as a result some of them stopped working on Monday 15.”
The report continued: “On Wednesday at 2 pm, he gathered the representatives of the workers in his office in Achaea and threatened them in danger of their lives, along with the other perpetrators, that he would not give them money if they wouldn’t get to work. At 5 pm, 100 Bangladeshi citizens gathered there as an ultimate effort to claim the payment of the accrued. The three arrested, armed with a hunting rifle and a handgun, shot and injured 30 of the workers.”
Vangelatos’ lawyer, Sakis Kotsifas said that, “Mr. Vangelatos denies the charges, he has nothing to do with the attributable acts, he is opposite to any use of violence, chiefly against the employees; it should be clarified that the employees in question weren’t working for him but for the other accused. The accused were not Mr. Vangelatos’ supervisors and had nothing to do with him except the products of their cultivations, as those of many other farmers, which my client buys from them. If the other cultivators, the accused among them, have foreign, local, legal or illegal employees, this is something that does not concern Mr. Vangelatos and he has no responsibility towards other cultivators’ workers.”