Campaigners march on Czech government to expose slavery in state forests

28 March 2011

Over a hundred people marched on the Ministry of Agriculture in Prague on Sunday 27 March to demand justice for hundreds of migrant forest workers forced to work without pay on state owned forests.

Campaigners from the Initiative for Migrant Workers Rights and Initiative Against Racism called for compensation and criminal investigation to expose those responsible for exploiting migrant workers from Vietnam, Slovakia, Romania and other countries.

Two labour providers, Affumicata and Wood Servis Praha, are accused of exploiting around 1,500 workers in 2009 and 2010 to plant, clean and cut down trees in state owned forests.

Both firms are subcontractors for Less & Forest, one of the biggest forestry companies in the country, which carries out work for the main state forestry agency Lesy České Republiky at Šumava and Krkonoše national parks.

The workers were promised salaries starting at 10 000 CZK (400 Euros) a month as well as housing. However, hundreds allege that they worked up to twelve hours a day little or no pay at all.

Vietnamese workers also complained of being persuaded to sign a ‘training contract’ instead of an employment contract. Those who complained also received threats from management.

A grant from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) has paid for lawyers to take on the case of 74 migrant workers owed more than 100,000 euros in unpaid wages.

Petra Kutálková from La Strada Czech Republic, said: “This is the most extensive known case of trafficking for forced labour in the Czech Republic. The call for public attention and corporate social responsibility is a crucial part of the effort to combat trafficking and labour exploitation.”