2023-12-11

EPERNAY / COLOMBO - Champagne has been a symbol of luxury for decades. Over the last few years, the shiny image of the sparkling wine from Eastern France suffered quite a bit. Several affairs of human trafficking have been battering the famous French industry. 

In-depth research by a team of international journalists now uncovers that some producers have been relying on dubious service providers who treat their workers from Asia, Africa, and Europe like slaves and defraud the French welfare state of millions of euros.

In 2022, for the first time, the value of shipments of Champagne bottles exceeded the 6 billion euros threshold. In total, 326 million bottles have been produced. The USA, the UK, Japan, Italy, and Germany are major markets. The industry's success is also due to a massive foreign workforce, the majority of about 120,000 seasonal workers. According to the Champagne Industry Federation, during the 2017 Champagne harvest, for the very first time, the workload of the external workers from abroad exceeded the work done by French employees. Following some worker’s Union representatives and other experts, the share of foreigners has been increasing since some of them evaluate its share at about 2/3. Many of them are hired through service providers. Hundreds of them exist.

Over the last years, several news stories on modern slavery in Champagne came out, many of them linked to service providers. Nowadays, the problem can’t be ignored any longer. In September, five harvest workers died under circumstances that are partly still under investigation. In the same month, at least four collective worker accommodations have been closed down by Public Authorities, including illegal campsites. Related to that, two prosecutor’s investigations were opened in Champagne for “human trafficking”. Workers without papers, without employment contracts, and also malnourished were housed in unsanitary conditions in collective accommodations. Furthermore, specialised French investigators in Lille are currently investigating a criminal scheme between France and Bulgaria involving a service provider of the Champagne industry. The social harm of that scheme alone is estimated at several million euros.

Champagne Leaks investigation shows that some Champagne producers also work with dubious providers who profit from vulnerable people such as asylum seekers. Over the years, there haven’t been just a few isolated cases. Thousands of victims have been made, including many Asian nationals, some of them coming from Afghanistan, and others from Sri Lanka and India. During a months-long research, the team obtained classified court documents and other confidential information from European investigators indicating that many companies are involved in this kind of affairs. Exclusive testimony from victims and industry insiders shed light on highly questionable working and living conditions not just for a few, but for a high number of foreign workers. This fact has been kept secret until now.

📸 © Miramar Film

Team members

Robert Schmidt

Robert Schmidt is a Strasbourg-based independent journalist 

Robert Schmidt

Stéphanie Wenger

Stéphanie Wenger is an independent journalist and author.

Ishaq Ali Anis

Ishaq Ali Anis is a freelance photographer based in France.

Ishaq Ali Anis

Jeevan Ravindran

Jeevan Ravindran is a freelance journalist in London and Sri Lanka.

Stanimir Vaglenov

Stanimir Vaglenov is the online projects manager at Media Group Bulgaria.

Mentor

Nancy Porsia

Nancy Porsia is an award-winning freelance journalist and acknowledged expert on Libya, based in Italy.
 
Supported
€19.930 allocated on 17/03/2023
ID
MSU/2023/048

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