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Czech Republic – Modern Slavery – 21 min [24 September 2012]

Corina Rahoveanu – trafficked worker
Gheorghe Titu – trafficked worker

Richard Nemec – lawyer of Vasyl Bentsa 

Vasyl Bentsa – human trafficking suspect

Michal Červenka – manager asparagus firm BSK

Ionut Rahoveanu – trafficked worker

Emine Bozkurt – member of European Parliament

 

INTRODUCTION

Sequence with shots of Land Rover approaching and quotes

soundbite Corina Rahoveanu

 

00:03“They threatened us with pistols and swords.”

“Some guys tried to run off, but they captured them, brought them back and beat them.”

 soundbite Gheorge Titu

 

00:18“I put an asparagus which was too short into the box. When they checked it, they asked why have you put that one in? And they kicked and beat me right away.”

 soundbite Ionut Rahoveanu

 

 00:29“[interviewer] Have you ever been paid for the work you did?

– No.”

 soundbite anonymous Romanian police detective

00:33“Considering the scope of the case and also the working conditions –  especially in this case – and everything that has happened, this was a clear case of human trafficking.”

 

Scene with MIchal Cervenka  pulling over and getting out of Land Rover

soundbite MIchal Cervenka:

00:45“Do you want me to call the police right now or later on?…”

 00:58 This is the land of „White Gold” – or asparagus. In Western Europe asparagus doesn’t come cheap, but many Eastern Europeans are paying a much higher price for it. Enticed by offers of a reasonable living, upon arrival in the Czech Republic they receive only threats and violence, and get no payment for their work.

1:18 The company ultimately managing the farms they work on is based in the Netherlands.

1:26 So how is it possible for a Dutch company to profit from slavery inside the EU?  The answers lie in Romania…

soundbite Corina: „Vladimir…”

1:36 …we speak with the offenders…

soundbite Bentsa: 1:37 It is a dutch company – the trustee was cervenka.

1:44 …and we try to make enquiries on the holdings concerned…

soundbite Červenka: 1:45 I’ll smash your camera

 1:48Corina: This is the Kitchen

1:52 The stove uses firewood. This is the bedroom – my children sleep here. My husband and I sleep here. Everything you see is made by us.

2:16 That’s it. I thought we were going to the Czech Republic to earn real money. I imagined a house with separate rooms, but it wasn’t possible. … What do you want?

 2:38 We are in a village only five minutes drive from the Romanian capital of Bucharest. This is the home of Corina Rahoveanu,  her husband and their three children. In the spring of 2008, she, her husband and her husband’s family were persuaded to leave their homes, and move to the Czech Republic in search of work. But they were disappointed with the conditions in which they were forced to live.

 

Aston: Corina Rahoveanu – Asparagus Farmer

 2:58 Corina: As soon as we arrived our ID’s were taken away from us.

3:03We then realised… I thought to myself: we have nowhere to go, no chance of escape, because they have taken our IDs. We asked for them back, but they were never returned.

 3:12 Interviewer: Then you started to work. Was there something strange about the work too and the way you were treated in those first days?

 3:21 Corina: Yes – they forced us to work. Work and no rest.

3:28 Corina: The first day we were at work. The Romanians were with us. Gabriel and [what’s that name again] Bujor, who were with us the whole day in the field.

01:03 And they shouted at us: they are forcing us to work. We couldn’t as much as stop for a cigarette and smoke.

3:38: Corina and her family had fallen into the hands of a group of people traffickers. They put labourers at work in the fields of the company BSK, not far from Prague in the Czech Republic. The traffickers used a heavy hand to encourage workers to stay on the field late into the night, explains Corina’s brother, Lonut.

3:58 Lonut: We were beaten with fists and feet, if we didn’t do as we were told.

 4:02 Corina: Some tried to run away, but they were caught, cut and beaten.

 4:18 Gheorghe Titu lives a few houses down. He has experienced the violence of the traffickers, to his cost.

 

Aston: Gheorghe Titu – Asparagus Farmer

 4:27: Interviewer: When you were beaten for the first time, what was the reason you were given?

As I said, I made a mistake with the Asparagus shoots.

4:35 I had them in a box that was too small.

4:45 When they arrived, they asked „why have you done this?” And then I was beaten and kicked afterwards.

4:50 They cursed our family. We could only work. Cry and work.

4:58 When we said we wanted to leave, we were beaten again

 05:02 Corina: None of the working men dared to intervene. If something happened no-one came to help, as then there is only more to help. And they threatened us with guns, knives and swords.

 Q: Guns and swords?

5:18 Corina: yes –

who had them?

5:22 Corina: Mischa, Volodymir…  The Czechs. I know I saw Mischa with a gun. He had one in the car.

 5:37 Corina „Vladimir & Mischa”

5:43 „Mischa was the one who used to threaten people.”

Q: And what did Vladimir do?

5:47 Vladimir was in command

6:01 We are in the Czech Republic on the way to the courthouse, where the accused traffickers again appear before a Judge, as part of a protracted trial process.

 6:15 These are the Vladimir and Mischa, that Corina has been describing.

6:19 And this is Vasyl Bentsa, the boss of the company that exploited the Romanians on the asparagus field.

6:27: They stand accused of human trafficking and exploitation – this meeting is an opportunity for the introduction of additional evidence.

6:33 Presiding Judge:  This hearing is concluded on the 2nd  May at 13:00 hours in this courtroom.

6:42 The three defendants are imprisoned for five years. During the sentencing, the court states they are convicted for…

6:48 … The instilling of fear through threat of physical violence and death[…], The theft of identity papers, the use of physical violence, […] which logically resulted in an atmosphere of fear for the victims

 7:02 But what of the role of the companies the human traffickers were working with? The asparagus company itself remains just outside the remit of the lawsuit – but what about the Dutch director with whom it did business?

7:14 After the session we can ask the main culprit a few questions directly.

 

titels: Richard Nêmec – Lawyer Vasyl Bentsa 

Vasyl Bentsa – Trafficking suspect

7:17: English: Who did you deal with – the director of BSK?

7:21 Did you have contact with the director?

7:23 Bentsa: With who?

7:24 The director from BSK?

Bentsa: Yes

7:26: What was his name?

B: Bohemia Spargel Kultur.

YT: And who was the director there?

7:30 B: The Director, the agriculturalist there is…

YT: Who is there that you signed signed the contract with?

B: I don’t actually know. It was someone with authority, as they are a registered Dutch firm, a national company operating under an authorised person.

 

English: So who was your contact in BSK?

 7:50 Cervenka? Cervenka! Cervenka.

7:56 Co-ordinating between the Dutch director and traffickers was the manager of BSK – Michal Cervenka.

 8:04 From court documents it’s apparent that this manager and several other employees of the asparagus company were heard as witnesses. None of them admit to any knowledge of the activities of the people traffickers.

8:26 This is the home shared by Corina, her husband, her in-laws and their families. All were the victims of the traffickers. Her brother Lonut believes that the staff of the asparagus company were well aware of the crimes taking place in their own fields.

 

Aston: Ionut Rahoveanu – Asparagus Farmer

8:40 There were definitely some who spoke in their language who knew what was going on. We couldn’t understand what was being said, but some of them knew. They spoke in their own language, which we did not understand. They knew it, they understood, but they sided with the others.

8:58 interviewer: How were they able to understand what was being done?

09:00 Who, us or them?

09:02: Interviewer: No, by those Czechs who knew how you were treated. Could they see that you were beaten?

9:10 Yes, because the tractor drivers worked where they could see that we were hunted down.  They would say „come on quickly, otherwise you’ll sleep outside. That sort of thing.

9:23 A Romanian detective has worked with the investigation. Because of his position, he wants to remain anonymous and not appear on screen. He argues that the companies doing business with Bentsa knew very well that the workers wouldn’t be paid.

9:39 I cannot say whether they knew they were dealing with human traffickers, but they certainly knew that these people would perform work for which they would not be paid.

9:45 They knew that the contractual conditions of the Romanian workers would not be complied with.

 9:51  According to the detective, the clients would have been well aware that the workers would not receive, or would only partially receive, their wages, as stories of displaced Romanian workers were already well known at the time.

 

10:00 English – Can they say they didn’t know?

10:03 They can say whatever they want.

 10:12 We go in search of Michal Cervenka, the manager at BSK and, according to the traffickers, the person who made business arrangements with them. If anyone at the asparagus company should know the details of what happened on the fields, it’s him.

10:30 We track him down to a shed in one of the farms of BSK. He refuses an interview, but we were able to have a short conversation with him.

 

ASTON: Michal Červenka – BSK Manager

10:39 Interviewer: We are curious about how the contact between Bentsa and BSK was established

10:47: This is a question for the former management of this company, and you should turn to them.

10:59 H: Who are they?

11:02 The Teboza company

 11:07 Michal Cervenka is referring to the former managers of the farm, the company Teboza. Teboza is one of the largest asparagus growers in the Netherlands, and is also owns half of BSK. And the Dutch direct0r of Teboza was for a long time also the director of BSK, up until a month before our visit to the company.

11:27 Interviewer: Our main interest is whether members of the management or staff at BSK were ever aware of the circumstances under which Romanians working here several years ago…

11:38 I can’t answer you. You should ask the people who were here at the time

11:49 Interviewer  But you were there weren’t you? How long have you worked here?

11:55 Yes, I was here then too, but I repeat, I am busy and have no need to tell you.

12:01 The next day we film the workers out in the aparagus fields. In 2009 the Czech police rounded up the gang of traffickers, following stories of displaced workers emerging since 2007. These days, the atmosphere seems more peaceful. There is no exploitation to be seen.

 12:30 We would like to ask these people about their working conditions, but this woman will not tell us anything.

 12:39 Women in green: I will call Cervenka

12:42 She calls Cervenka, and he’s on his way. But not to speak to us.

13:01 Interviewer: Hello

13:02: Gentlemen, do I need to call the police or something? I had you thrown out yesterday. You are standing on private property, so take that camera and get out of here.

 

13:20 As Cervenka starts to threaten us, we decide it’s time to leave.

13:23And if I see you here again, on one of our sites, I’ll call the police immediately and they’ll be here in five minutes.

13:25: And I’ll smash that camera.

 13:35 Back to Romania. Gheorghe Titu is describing to us his attempts to leave.

13:45 Couldn’t you contact your family?

13:55 It was only after two and a half months of asking that I was allowed to call. Afterwards, I still wasn’t allowed to go home.

I called my cousin and said I wanted to come home. I’m not enjoying myself. I really want to come. He wanted the same.

14:13 But George couldn’t escape.

We show him the pictures of the traffickers themselves, and Michael Cervenka, the manager of BSK. George immediately recognises him.

14:28 English: Have you ever seen this man?

 14:51. Occasionally he protected us, but other times he hit us.

14:57 If what George Titu says is true, this means that Michael Cervenka was well aware of how the workers were treated, sometimes even going as far as beating them himself.

15:11 Cervenka has explicitly stated to the court he had no idea of the poor treatment of the workers.

15:15 Lonut says that the employees of BSK must have known about the situation. Cervenka refuses to respond to our questions over the issue.

15:27 Instead, we submit our questions to the director of BSK at that time, Will Teeuwen. Teeuwen will not appear on camera, but his lawyer speaks on his behalf.

 

titel: Remie Huijs – Teboza Legal Representative

 15:38 What you see in the report is truly shocking. It is inconceivable that such things happen in this age. I would like to stress that my client is in all respects unconnected with these practices.

15:54 According to the lawyer, the Dutch director became aware of the abuses after the Czech prosecutor had investigated.

 16:01The moment my client learned of this – the first signs of an issue – he immediately broke off all contact with the „Bear Loging” company

 16:07 [interviewer:] ‘Bear Loging’ is the trafficking company?

 16:09 Precisely. At this point, my client also announced to the prosecution that they would give their full cooperation to the investigation.

 

titel: Emine Bozkurt – Labour MEP

16:20 [Emine Bozkurt:] I find it very distressing that liability is avoided when a business should have been aware that such practices are occurring. Whether or not they are operating through a subcontractor.

16:40

According to MEP Emine Bozkurt, clients should be liable for abuses in their work place, even if those actually guilty are intermediaries.

16:54 [Emine Bozkurt:] Within Czech legislation, just about any company can tender for your business, and then be left to its own devices in its operations. There is no formal employment relationship. And this is what has enabled the malpractice, this exploitation, to take place. And then the client can say, “Well I knew nothing. I hired someone and this happened. What a nuisance”

 

quote Remy Huijs:

17:21 If the position of Ms Bozkurt, as I understand it, is it to consider the business liable by the mere fact of a business relationship, for something happening which they cannot possibly know about, then she goes too far.

17:35 According to the lawyer, the asparagus company received no indication of the abuses. Even though more people worked in the fields besides the trafficked workers, as well as staff from BSK itself.

17:48 If you consider that the other Czechs, after we offered names, but also in advance, never signaled any knowledge of the trafficking, then yes, there’s only one thing I can conclude: that if these things occurred, it was certainly not visible, and my client has not been made aware of them.

18:09 In April 2013 a new EU directive against human trafficking comes into force. Bozkurt wants the Netherlands to commit in writing to the persecution of the liabilities of clients from western nations.

18:11 They must ensure that that corporate responsibility is assured – so if a company could have known that trafficking was being committed by a subcontractor, or that due to poor control or supervision they have otherwise failed, then they are indeed liable. Because if it is not enshrined in legislation, nothing will change.

 18:52 When Corina realised she was never going to receive payment for her work, she fled.

19:00 One night I ran. I was very afraid – I escaped at about two thirty, and spent the whole day and night walking.

 

When George Titu complained he had no money to return home, or even buy food, he says he was threatened by one of the traffickers.

19:08 When he warned me, I was threatened with rape. I fled and slept on the road. I was then arrested, and I my work permits had been taken from me. I tried to explain the situation, but we couldn’t understand one another. They then sought an interpreter for me. One came from Prague, and then they finally learned what had happened to me.

19:39 I travelled by train. I told someone I had no money and that I wanted to come home, and he gave my the fare to the Hungarian border, so I could surrender to the authorities and explain what had happened to me in the Czech Republic. And then it emerged that I wasn’t the only case, but that there were several others who had been there as well. Others with the same stories about Vladimir and the others.

20:16 The stories of Corina, George and dozens of others eventually spurred the authorities into action. In 2009, the traffickers were arrested during a series of police raids. Last month, the three ringleaders were sentenced to five years in prison. The Romanian workers are still waiting for their wages.

 
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