Bordeaux arrests made for employing under-age harvest worker
Seven people have been arrested for allegedly exploiting migrant harvest workers, including an under age child, in Bordeaux.
Several dozen harvest workers, including a 14-year-old child, are reported to have been trafficked into France from Romania to help with this year’s Bordeaux harvest.
According to French news agency AFP, the Libourne (Gironde) public prosecutor’s office has charged seven people in Bordeaux with “organized gang trafficking of human beings”, as well as “concealing a crime” and “subjecting vulnerable people to unacceptable conditions of work and accommodation”.
Those arrested on Tuesday 10 October were from three different communes, including Saint-Émilion, where many of the region’s finest wines are made.
In 2020, six people and three companies went on trial accused of exploiting migrant workers picking grapes for the Champagne region. Sub-contractors has been tasked “by some of France’s biggest Champagne producers” to find manpower for the harvest, according to a Euro News report.
The almost 200 workers involved in the case were housed in “slave-like” conditions, sleeping ten to a room in a “derelict” hotel with no hot water or mattresses.
A 26-year-old Afghan national said that workers would begin at 5.30am and finish at around 10.30 pm, with no contract, and were expected to pay €25 a day for their food and sub-standard accommodation.
Is it time to stop paying pickers by the kilo?
Following the death of four grape pickers in Champagne this year, caused partially by soaring temperatures during harvest, producers are questioning whether a new approach is called for.
With temperatures climbing to 38 °C during the first week of picking in some parts of Champagne, workers were overcome by the heat with one suffering a cardiac arrest and another suffering fatal injuries after falling from a tractor.
Maxime Toubart, president of the SGV, the main growers’ union in Champagne, said: “It’s the first time this has happened and the first time it’s been this hot [in September]. We are not used to harvesting in temperatures like this.”
Producers across Champagne are now asking what steps can be taken to prevent such tragedies occurring during future harvests.
The unusual heat experienced this year may have been exacerbated by additional factors including but not limited to the lack of sleep and living conditions that some grape pickers in the region are subjected to.
When workers are being paid by grape weight there is also the risk of over-exertion in the heat in order to pick as many grapes as possible.
A series of incremental law changes in Champagne, designed to raise the quality of on-site accommodation for grape pickers during harvest, has ended up having quite the opposite effect. With the harvest only taking place for around two weeks per year, some small growers are unable or unwilling to invest in making the necessary improvements to rooms so that harvest workers can be accommodated on site.
As a result of this, some workers are staying in hotels, often several to one room.
The Champagne growers association is said to be lobbying Paris to overturn the law changes regarding on-site worker accommodation.