Days longer than 12 hours, spoiled meat for a single meal, rationed water despite exhausting work and unworthy accommodation conditions. "Modern slavery in prestigious Champagne vines", summarizes a person close to the investigation. Six men and women - as well as three companies - are tried from this Wednesday and until Friday by the correctional court of Reims for "concealed work", "employment of foreigners without a work permit", or "submission of people vulnerable to unworthy accommodation conditions ”to the prejudice of 24 foreign employees, specifies Matthieu Bourrette, the Reims prosecutor. Worse still, two managers of a company are suspected of "human trafficking". All of them generally dispute the facts.
During the 2018 harvest, an altercation broke out in the Aube vineyards between several pickers. The gendarmes intervene and discover on the spot 48 Afghan workers who live on the spot in very precarious conditions and work without title. At the same time, a control is organized in the Marne. Investigators discover 77 illegal workers.
Recruiters at Porte de la Chapelle
The gendarmes realize that all these foreign workers are employed by the same companies, based in Reims. Convinced that they are dealing with large-scale fraud, the gendarmes of the Central Office for the Fight against Illegal Work (OCLTI) and the SR of Reims take the investigation in hand and discover a well-established mechanism.
Recruiters go to Paris, notably Porte de la Chapelle, or to reception centers for asylum seekers (CADA): they promise migrants employment in the prestigious Champagne vineyards. All are transported to Reims and entrusted to the care of two other wine providers who own vines. Other workers are sent by these companies to the vineyards of small owners or large houses.
Thus, a former production manager of an age-old Champagne house is among the accused. According to the prosecution, he could not ignore that the workers employed on these plots were not in a regular situation. However, the company is not prosecuted, the investigation having estimated that it was not informed of the actions of its employee. “In this kind of case, the difficulty concerns the principals, estimates a close to the investigation. Some are clearly failing in their duty of care, but others are in good faith. "
"There are a lot more controls"
If prosecutions for “trafficking in human beings” remain relatively rare, “this type of case illustrates well what is happening in many vineyards at the national level, underlines a good connoisseur of the file. But these acts are now better detected and it is now a real priority, there are many more controls. "
"This is an emblematic case of abnormal practices," supports Me Mehdi Bouzaida, lawyer for the Committee against Modern Slavery. Some workers weren't even paid! »Rare thing in this type of file, three of the foreigners who would have been exploited brought civil action and should testify at the hearing.