Union busting in Turkey
Kosan Kozmetik, a subsidiary of the Yves Rocher Group since 2012, manufactures Flormar brand beauty products in the Gebze industrial basin in Turkey.Between March and September 2018, the subsidiary dismissed more than 130 of its employees, mostly women, who had just joined the Turkish trade union Petrol-Iş. These workers wanted to assert their rights in the face of the deplorable working conditions in the factory: very low wages, exposure to harmful products in the absence of suitable equipment, forced overtime, discrimination against women.
Ms. Feryat Gökçen, a production worker in the eyeshadow department who was dismissed in May 2018, says: “[My supervisor] tried to make a deal with me: ‘If you give me the list of all union members, you will not be dismissed. I refused to give the names of my comrades and I was fired. […] They fired everyone they suspected of being a union member. All you had to do was talk to a union member and there were consequences’ ”.
Yves Rocher Group’s duty of vigilance
According to the summons served today by 34 former employees, ActionAid France, Sherpa and Petrol-Iş, these violations could have been avoided if the Yves Rocher Group had respected its duty of vigilance.
Adopted in 2017, the French Law on the duty of vigilance obliges large French companies to establish, publish and effectively implement a vigilance plan containing appropriate measures to identify risks and prevent serious violations of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the health and safety of individuals resulting from the activities of their subsidiaries, including those located outside France.
While the Yves Rocher Group has become a “mission-driven company” under French law (1) and its CEO, Bris Rocher, has been entrusted by the Government with a mission on “responsible corporate governance”, the group has not made its vigilance plan public until 2020, after having been put on notice by the organisations. And its plans make no mention of the risks of violations of workers’ fundamental rights caused by the activities of its Turkish subsidiary, nor of the preventive measures taken to avoid them.
The claimants are asking the Paris Judicial Court to recognise that the Yves Rocher Group has failed to comply with its duty of vigilance, to order the company to take appropriate preventive measures and to pay damages for the harm suffered by the employees and by the union.
For Sandra Cossart, Sherpa’s Executive Director: “The duty of vigilance precisely aims to prevent such violations from occurring within French groups operating in countries where the freedom to join or form a trade union is threatened. The number of employees affected shows that this is a structural flaw in Yves Rocher’s vigilance system, and that this situation could have been avoided if the company had taken its new legal obligations seriously, instead of communicating about its alleged mission.”
For Salma Lamqaddam from ActionAid France, “The majority of the workers who have been dismissed for joining a labor union are women, who experienced discriminations within the factories. This trial is a way for these women to claim their rights for dignified working conditions and freedom of association all the while preventing these practices from happening again. It is a call for corporate regulation directed to transnational companies which manufacture their products at low cost with no regards to international labor law nor gender equality.”
For Rıza Kose from Petrol-Iş: “Instead of behaving in accordance with the law on duty of vigilance in France and respecting the freedom of association, Yves Rocher rather preferred to exploit the Labour Code and Trade Union and Collective Bargaining Law of Turkey. Unfortunately, such practices violating labour rights by multinational companies have been all too common in Turkey. This double standard is unacceptable. The freedom of association in Turkey is still under threat, and the detrimental effects of Yves Rocher’s failures still continue for the workers and the union.”