Advocacy update

Migrant Farmworkers in Greece Remain Unprotected After Disappointing Council of Europe Decision

September 17, 2020
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Three years after the European Court of Human Rights found that Greece failed to protect migrant farmworkers from forced labor, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers are closing the case and enforcement of the decision. The Open Society Justice Initiative is expressing concern that the decision is premature and the Greek government has failed to make the necessary changes to protect workers.

In 2013, approximately 150 Bangladeshi men were working on a strawberry farm in Nea Manolada, Greece. The men often worked seven days a week, and the employer never paid them the promised wages. As the back pay owed increased in value, the men went on strike.  When the employer brought in a new team of workers, the men went to the fields again to demand their wages. The employer’s guards shot at the protesting workers, injuring 30 of them.

Domestic courts charged the employers with labor trafficking, but the court later acquitted them, ruling that the workers were physically free to leave the farm. The court convicted the two guards of dangerous bodily harm, but their sentences were commuted to fines.

The Open Society Justice Initiative, together with co-counsel with the Greek Council for Refugees, brought Chowdury and others v. Greece before the European Court of Human Rights. In 2017, the Court sided with the workers, ruling that the Greek government failed to adhere to Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court required Greece to create and enforce legislative and administrative measures that safeguard against forced labor and trafficking.

Sumaiya Islam, senior policy officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative, commented on the Committee’s decision to end supervision of the judgement before Greece implemented the full measures: 

“This decision could not come at a worse time. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the working situation for migrant farm laborers, particularly those with irregular legal status, even more precarious throughout Greece. Ending supervision of the European Court of Human Rights’ decision is premature and unfortunate. This decision allows Greece to relinquish its responsibility to commit to full legal reforms and protective measures needed to end the exploitation of vulnerable, migrant farm workers nationwide."

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