The prosecutor's office of Châlons-en-Champagne said Friday, September 22, to have opened "two investigations for human trafficking" in the context of the harvest in Champagne, after the closure by the prefecture of the Marne of collective accommodation of harvesters in Nesle-le-Repons (Marne), deemed "unsanitary" and "unworthy".
Céline Fassey, deputy prosecutor of Châlons-en-Champagne, told AFP of the opening of these investigations targeting "several companies", without further details on the alleged facts or the companies targeted.
Use of seasonal workers
These investigations have "no link with the deaths of the harvesters," says Ms. Fassey, while four pickers in Champagne have died since early September, in a context of high heat.
The regional committee CGT had mentioned Friday the opening of an investigation by this prosecutor, denouncing, in an open letter to the prefect of the Great East, "intolerable methods concerning the use of seasonal workers". "The contractors use subcontractors in cascade without any control, endangering the lives of seasonal workers from West Africa," says the union, describing situations of "malnutrition" and "precarious health".
The prefecture of the Marne had ordered on September 15 the closure in Nesle-le-Repons of accommodation deemed "unworthy" and "unsanitary" seasonal workers "coming in their vast majority from West Africa". It had ordered the owner, who was also the employer of the workers, to take charge of the relocation of the employees of the sites concerned.
Omerta in the world of champagne
José Blanco, general secretary of the CGT champagne interunion, had then castigated to AFP "the omerta" that reigns "in the world of champagne". "Everyone turns a blind eye because it's the most expensive grape in the world," he said. The Confédération paysanne, an agricultural union marked on the left, for its part asked Friday for a "plan of vigilance and improvement of working conditions and remuneration" for seasonal workers.
At the end of August, the winegrowers of Champagne had obtained from the State a relaxation of the rules of accommodation of seasonal workers during the harvest. In particular, they can accommodate up to ten seasonal workers per room, compared to six previously.
Four managers of three wine service companies were sentenced in September 2020 to suspended prison sentences of six months to three years for providing labour employed in undignified conditions. Also implicated, the head of wine services and harvest of the Veuve-Clicquot champagne house (LVMH group) had been acquitted.