French officials last week arrested four members of an organised crime group, three from Bulgaria, one from France, after identifying around 167 potential slaves employed by four winegrowing companies near the eastern city of Lyon, according to Europol.
Aged between 30 and 60, the suspects recruited workers every year from disadvantaged regions in Bulgaria through an employment agency based in Bulgaria and brought them to France.
The Bulgarian members were responsible for recruitment in Bulgaria, while the French member arranged logistics, including organising accommodation for the workers.
“Poor and Illiterate, they (the workers) signed contracts in French, which they do not understand, with the promise that they would be paid sixty euros a day … the organizers of the network then took most of their salaries, which they then invested in real estate and commerce,” a source close to the investigation told AFP.
The workers were told that they would receive housing and transportation to France but when they arrived in the country, via unlicensed transportation, they were forced to live on a campsite.
They also had the cost of their food deducted from their wages.
According to Europol, many of these workers did not have enough money left over after their contracts finished for their transportation costs back to Bulgaria.
The criminal network laundered the proceeds through properties in France, according to Europol.
The suspects were already known to the police for "minor crimes" and face charges of with "illegal work in an organized gang," as well as the "trafficking of human beings for exploitation through organized crime" and "conspiracy," according to AFP.