Satisfaction for workers, success for activists, shame for the Czech police

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Klára Skrivánková, Europe Programme Co-ordinator, on the Czech Constitutional Court’s verdict ordering the Czech police to reopen investigation into the infamous ‘tree workers’ case. 

The poster from 'The Tree Workers Case' documentary
The poster from ‘The Tree Workers Case’ documentary

19 January 2016

Last week, the highest court in the Czech Republic told the police they were wrong to stop investigating the infamous “tree workers” case. The court found that the police acted unlawfully when they dropped the case claiming it wasn’t trafficking.

More than five years after the first complaint was brought, the affected workers may finally see their complaints properly investigated.

The case concerned hundreds of migrant workers who were brought to the Czech Republic through false promises and were exploited in the Czech forestry over a number of years.

The Czech Constitutional Court said that the country must respect its international obligations to protect human rights and address human trafficking, and that the police has the duty to thoroughly investigate allegations of crime.

This is a landmark verdict that gives the workers in this case a chance to finally receive justice and also sets an important precedent for future cases.

“Not once but many times…”

From countries including Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia, workers answered the call of recruitment agencies who promised decent wages and accommodation in the Czech Republic. Instead, hundreds of workers reported that they worked up to twelve hours a day with little or no pay, were threatened, abused and forced to live in unsanitary conditions.

The Czech police failed to act on a number of occasions, ignoring even requests of Romanian authorities on behalf some of the affected workers. Only a small number of workers was interviewed and the case was not taken any further, despite mounting evidence presented by the workers’ lawyers against the agents and international attention garnered by civil society organisations and the authors of the award winning documentary “Tree Workers’ Case.”

“Take trafficking seriously …”

Anti-Slavery International has supported the case, in particular through our work on compensation for trafficked persons . We provided advice and contacts for the lawyers representing the workers and worked to raise the profile of the case internationally.

The court ruling is the first proper recognition of the severity of this case, something that activists, NGOs, the media and determined lawyers have been pointing out for years.

The development in this case is yet another reminder that trafficking remains a high profit, low risk crime and that the majority of perpetrators who derive huge profits from abusing vulnerable workers continue to escape justice.

Anti-Slavery will continue to follow the case. We hope that the exploited workers will finally see justice done and that the court ruling will prompt the Czech authorities to start taking trafficking and forced labour seriously.