The idea that economic slavery exists only abroad, in Brazilian fazendas, for example, or when multinational companies sub-contract to those with slavery-like practices, and not in France, is particularly widespread. There are in fact numerous instances of exploitation and economic slavery on French territory - particularly in seasonal jobs in the agricultural, building or even hotel industries.
Article 13 of the French National Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings 2014 - 2016 is expected to modify the law in order to give "explicit powers to labor inspectors to report illegal situations of trafficking in human beings, submission to labor or forced labour, slavery or practices similar to slavery."
The offences of slavery, servitude and forced labor or services have been introduced only recently into the penal code. France, having been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by the judgments in Siliadin and C. N. and V. against France, amended article 225-4-1 of the penal code with the Law of 5 August 2013 which created five new offenses of exploitation: reduction to slavery, servitude, forced labor, forced services and the removal of organs. Incrimination for working and living conditions contrary to the dignity of the human person could not, before this,be considered relevant to the detection of trafficking.
Slavery is defined in article 224-1 of the penal code, and refers to a situation where a person exercises over another "the attributes of the right of ownership or some of them", while property is defined by articles 544 of the Civil Code. The crime of slavery is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment.
Servitude has been defined by the judgments of Siliadin and C. N and V. against France. C. N. and V. holds that servitude consists of "aggravated forced or compulsory labor" and that it "constitutes a special category of forced or compulsory labor".
For the purposes of article 225-14-1 of the penal code , "forced labor is the fact, by violence or the threat, of compelling a person to perform a job without compensation or in exchange for a fee which obviously bears no relation to the importance of the work done. It is punishable by seven years’ imprisonment and 200,000 euros fine".
Article 225-4-2 of the penal code provides that "the reduction to slavery is the fact of inflicting , in the usual way, the offence provided for in article 225-14-1 to a person whose vulnerability or state of dependency are apparent or known to the author. It is punishable by ten years’ imprisonment and 300,000 euros fine".
Photo: Xavier Schwebel/Secours Catholique