Vineyards, farms across EU raided in labor abuse crackdown

Associated Press
Ag News

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Law enforcement authorities clamping down on the exploitation of agricultural workers raided hundreds of vineyards and farms across Europe last month, the European Union police agency Europol announced Tuesday.

Eight suspects were arrested in France and four in Spain; a total of 54 suspected human traffickers were identified in France, Italy, Spain and Latvia; and authorities found more than 250 possible victims of exploitation in the raids between Sept. 9-16, during the European harvesting season, Europol said in a statement. The police agency helped coordinate the inspections.

Employing seasonal workers, including victims of human trafficking, under poor conditions and with low pay is big business.

"Labor exploitation is a very lucrative criminal activity, damaging the health and rights of the victims," Europol said. 

One operation in France dismantled a criminal network responsible for depriving victims and tax authorities of some 5 million euros ($5.8 million). Investigators targeting the network searched 25 locations and arrested grape growers and other suspects, Europol said. It did not disclose where the raids happened.

The operation was led by authorities in France and involved police, immigration and border guards, labor inspectorates and tax authorities from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands and Spain. It sparked 126 new investigations in six countries, most of them in France.