French case shows trafficking charges can be used for ‘labour exploitation’ cases, not just cases of sex slavery or domestic slavery

In the spring of 2014, news broke in Paris of employees in a beauty salon who were, according to the Labour Inspector who reported the case, working in the worst conditions she had seen.  

"I do not think I saw at any time such an accumulation of offences”, she said.  The 18 employees, mainly female, were working more than 10 hours a day, often without a break, six days a week in unhygienic conditions.  They were paid by the piece for a manicure or hair straightening, for example, receiving as little as 1.43 Euro an hour.  Pay was normally late. The workers felt trapped because they were undocumented:  they had recently arrived in France.

In 2014, with the encouragement of their union (the CGT) the employees of 57 Boulevard de Strasbourg, Paris, took the extraordinary step, for these types of undocumented workers, of striking and making a complaint to the labour inspectorate. 

A case was then filed which claimed not only breaches of labour law, but also of trafficking.  The CGT argued, "The victims were caught in a system they could not get out of," said Maxime Cessieux, the union and employee's lawyer. “These are people who arrived shortly before in France, some not speaking French”.

Hervé Denis, the defense lawyer for the employer discredited the union for making the claim, proclaiming it was “cash strapped union trying to advertise itself".

In November 2016, the employer was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison, one of which was suspended. He appealed.  On Thursday February 8, he lost his appeal and was sentenced to one year in prison for ‘trafficking’.  He is prohibited from attending the 10th arrondissement of Paris for three years and received a permanent ban on managing a facility. He must also pay 1,500 Euros in damages to each of the 19 civil parties, the CGT and the 18 employees.

The President of the 31th Chamber of the Criminal Court emphasized in particular that the employees were "in a vulnerable situation" as they were undocumented. They "could not resign at the risk of losing wages not yet paid or frequently delayed," she added.

The case marks an extension of the application of the law of trafficking.  "Usually, the conviction for "trafficking in human beings " is linked to procuring or domestic slavery. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the court recognizes in a context of collective work in a company that employees have been subjected to human trafficking" , said Maxime Cessieux, the lawyer of the CGT and employees.


Helen Bidard, PCF Assistant to the Mayor of Paris in charge of the fight against discrimination, witness at the trial, welcomed a "historic first”.

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