The Rocher Group sued by the employees of a Turkish subsidiary

This is the fifth case that will be brought to justice by a non-governmental organization for non-compliance by a French company with its duty of vigilance. After TotalEnergies (assigned twice, once on the climate, the other for an oil project in Uganda), EDF, Casino, Suez, it is the turn of the Rocher Group, specializing in cosmetics, to be accused.

Violations of human rights and the environment

In 2017, France adopted a law unique in the world, which imposes on large French companies (more than 5,000 employees in France or 10,000 worldwide) a duty of vigilance over their actions and those of their subsidiaries, suppliers or subcontractors. contractors wherever they are. They must publish and implement a vigilance plan to identify risks and prevent serious violations of human rights and the environment. If the company does not fulfill its obligations, the judge can order it to comply, or even condemn it to “compensate for the damage that the performance of these obligations would have made it possible to avoid”.

For two years, cases skated in court because this law did not define the competent judge to settle these disputes. Finally, the law on confidence in the judicial institution, last December, ruled in favor of the judicial judge, to the detriment of the commercial court. This corresponded to the requests of the NGOs.

The Rocher Group is being sued by thirty-four former employees of one of its subsidiaries in Turkey, by a Turkish trade union and by two NGOs, Sherpa and ActionAid France. They accuse the company of not having respected its obligations on the duty of vigilance in terms of freedom of association and fundamental rights of workers.

Deplorable working conditions

According to the complainants, 132 workers, mostly women, were laid off from 2018 from the Kosan Kozmetik company, which manufactures Flormar brand products, a subsidiary of Yves Rocher in the Gebze industrial basin (south east of Istanbul). These employees wanted to join a union to assert their rights in the face of working conditions deemed deplorable: very low wages, exposure to harmful products in the absence of suitable equipment, imposed overtime, discrimination against women. The plaintiffs each claim between 40,000 and 60,000 euros in compensation.

Groupe Rocher disputes the merits of this action, which “seeks to tarnish its image on the basis of false accusations”. “An investigation was opened in 2018 on this subsidiary and this factory. She was driven by the Turkish authorities. This case has since been tried locally on several occasions. The decisions pronounced by the courts up to the Supreme Court have all been rendered in favor of the Kosan company and have concluded that this union is not representative. In fact, no breach or bankruptcy of its duty of vigilance has been observed”, specifies the Rocher Group, in a press release.

Employees of a non-French subsidiary seek compensation

This is the first time that employees of a non-French subsidiary have sought compensation for damage caused. In the EDF and Casino cases, the only two cases where companies are sued for damages are members of indigenous communities (in Mexico in one case, and in Brazil and Colombia in the other) who are suing justice. In the other cases, against TotalEnergies or Suez, the courts are seized because the French groups do not prevent the risks sufficiently upstream.

For Groupe Rocher, this case is particularly embarrassing. In December 2019, the group acquired the status of a company with a mission. Last October, its CEO, Bris Rocher, mandated by Bercy, issued a report to encourage companies to have more responsible governance.

In Brussels, the European Commission adopted a draft directive at the end of February which requires some 10,000 companies to review their supply chains to avoid attacks on the environment or human rights. The text should enter into force by the end of 2025.

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