Czech police ordered to revive investigation into exploited foreign workers

Photo: Archives de Radio Prague

Immense moral satisfaction. That’s the reaction from human rights activists after the Czech Republic’s Constitutional Court ordered the police to reopen their investigation into the exploitation of hundreds of foreign workers. Police not once but twice swept the case under the carpet in spite of the weighty dossier of proof against the agencies accused of involvement in modern day slavery.

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
They were tempted in Vietnam, Romania, Slovakia, and Mongolia with promises of handsome wages and decent accommodation in the Czech Republic. The reality for the hundreds of workers who answered the call of the Czech recruitment agencies seeking labour for the Czech state forestry company turned out for many to be very different.

Living conditions were basic and insanitary, wages were often not paid at all or only a small fraction of what was promised handed over. The case against the recruitment companies rapidly built up between 2009 and 2011 and was eventually handed over to the police. But the police treated the case in a cursory fashion, interviewing only a handful of the exploited workers, and eventually shelved it twice.

But the police were wrong if they thought the case would stay under the carpet. There were public demonstrations and in 2012 a documentary about the workers’ plight, ‘The Tree Workers Case’ was made and screened and went on to win awards.

Activists, lawyers, and NGO’s continued to press Czech authorities to deal with the cases of the 2,000 exploited workers and on Wednesday the Constitutional Court ruled that the police should reopen the exploitation investigation and deal with it seriously. This is how the vedict was described by Constitutional Court judge, Radovan Suchánek.

Radovan Suchánek, photo: archive of Radio Prague
“The Constitutional Court has not expressed an opinion whether or not a criminal act took place. It has only requested, demanded, that the suspicions should be thoroughly and properly investigated with regard to the specific responsibility of institutions according to criminal code.”

So, the police will have to go back and reopen the ageing dossier and make a show of treating it seriously this time round. That might help counter the impression given by this and other cases that the Czech Republic is not dealing adequately with modern slavery, human trafficking, and exploitation.

In 2014, the last year for which figures are available, the Czech Republic scored on the Global Slavery Index as the second worst performing EU country after Bulgaria with an estimated 38,000 people being exploited. It scored slightly better than Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, and Guyana. The Czech Republic ranked 74th worldwide out of 167 countries surveyed in the slavery and exploitation index. The accompanying report said the government showed some signs of trying to tackle the problem.