REPORT published in May 2011
The financial crisis at the end of 2008 lead to thousands of migrant workers in the Czech Republic losing their jobs. Consequently, many became more vulnerable to exploitation, forced labour or human trafficking due to the debts they have to re-pay back.
In 2009 and 2010 several companies (Affumicata a.s., Wood service Praha s.r.o. etc.) that were run by the same group of people (suspects) employed hundreds of workers in tree planting and other forestry work. The workers came from a number of countries, including Vietnam, Slovak Republic, Ukraine, Mongolia, Romania and Bulgaria. They performed heavy manual labor in forestry; however, they have not received any pay or received just deposits.
The suspects abused (and made huge profits from) the very specific position of vulnerability of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic. This became their modus operandi, which they successfully used to traffic members of other migrant communities working in the Czech Republic. The companies also abused the fact that different migrant communities do not have a common language and hence could not communicate about labor exploitation to each other and the information was not spread around.
The below mentioned companies were subcontractors of Less & Forest s.r.o., one of the biggest forestry companies in the Czech Republic to be awarded public tenders from the State Forestry Agency of the Czech Republic.
The recruited workers performed their jobs for a few weeks and even months, working between 10-12hours per day, six or seven days a week. Commonly, they received no pay at all or only small amonuts that were not always sufficient to buy enough food. In few cases the workers were threatened by physical violence while deciding to stop working or deciding to report their situation to police or to other authorities. La Strada’s estimation is that there have been around 1500 – 2000 trafficked persons. They are victims of the crime of Trafficking in Human beings according section 168 of Czech Penal Code.
The following forms of coercion were reported by the workers in this case :
Threats of use of force: while the workers wanted to leave, stop working or report the case to the police, threats of physical liquidation / beating, bodyguards
Threats of deportation of workers from Czech Republic
Use of deception and fraud - in case of Vietnamese workers - they were made to sign a “training contract” in Czech; they were unaware that they were in fact “trainee’s” (the labor inspection while intervening in the working site evaluated the situation that the workers do not fall under their responsibility but under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education!), false promises of wages in the amount of 15.000,- CZK in case of Vietnamese victims and around 1.000,- EURO in case of Slovak victims,
Non-payment of wages, non payment of overtimes, working conditions contradicting labor standards and human dignity
Abuse of the position of vulnerability - many of the workers were indebted in their countries of origin. The companies were aware of this fact. Language barrier was deliberately exploited by the companies
In 2010, thanks to financial support of OSCE/ODIHR attorneys at law Matouš Jíra and Štěpánka Miková with the support of La Strada CR launched the call appeal for victims and started to legally represent the victims. To date (15.05.2011) approx. 100 powers of attorneys have been collected from the victims and 60 criminal complaints filled.
Although the first criminal complaint has been filled in July 2010, criminal prosecution of the suspects has not been initiated yet (15.05.2011). The local police department of economical criminality is nowadays in charge of this case- still in the preliminary phase, even though there are strong indicators that the crime has been highly organized, transnational and is of huge extend and should belong under the responsibility of the specialized Organized Crime Unit of the police.
One of the key problems was identified as a misleading interpretation of the Trafficking in Human Beings by Czech police and by Czech state prosecutors. Reaction of the spokesman of the Organised Crime Unit of the Czech Police Mr. Hantak explains the problem by itself:
“They were not forced to perform this work by the means of use of physical violence, there was anyone holding the whip above them and than locking them in the 2 square meters room giving them just old dry bread and water” (Czech Radio 1 Radiozurnal, 17.3.2011)
Involved attorneys and NGO’s point to the fact that there has not been single conviction for trafficking for labour exploitation in the Czech Republic. It is because cases of labor exploitation are not identified and investigated as a crime of trafficking in human beings.
The State prosecutor was not convinced by the testimony of one of the Vietnamese worker:
“It is difficult. When he comes to here (Czech Republic) without a coin, doesn’t know the language and makes huge debt of 200 000 CZK (appx. 8 500 Euro) at home (Vietnam) and here I am… He is adult and judicious man isn’t he?”(Respekt, 10, 7.-13. March 2011)
The companies did not cease to recruit the new migrant workers for the works in Czech forests for the season 2011. There is 600 million CZK (approx. 25 million Euro) allocated by the state for forestry work in 2011. There are huge profits on one side and seems to be very low risks on the othe r side for the companies.
Attorney Matouš Jíra states:
“We must stop this modern slavery or the victims will not be in hundreds but in thousands next year.”
“Czech Republic is responsible for failure in investigation, poor access of victims to justice. It is ignominy of Czech state in the context of European Union. We still will try to receive the compensation and justice for the victims.”, says Štěpánka Miková.
“I thought that I am in civilised Europe. However, I don’t believe any more that I can access justice in this state.” Vietnamese worker.
published in May 2011 by
Irena Konečná, La Strada Czech Republic
Matouš Jíra, attorney in Prague
Štěpánka Miková, attorney in Prague