On 30 March 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on Chowdury and Others v. Greece, establishing Greek negligence in a case concerning severe exploitation of 42 migrant workers and the shooting of 21 of them.

In the extreme case concerning 42 Bangladeshi nationals who were subjected to forced labour at a strawberry farm in Greece the Court established that Greek authorities had failed their obligation to pro-actively investigate, identify and punish those responsible for exploitation and adopt measures to prevent forced labour, despite the legislative and administrative framework put into place in Greece.

The applicants worked twelve hours a day under the supervision of armed guards. In April 2013, 21 of the applicants were shot by the armed guards while requesting for their belated payments. They were taken to hospital and questioned by the police, which lead to the arrest of the guards for attempted murder and trafficking of human beings. However, the domestic court solely condemned the guards of grievous bodily harm and unlawful use of firearm and commuted his prison sentence to a financial penalty.

The applicants appealed against the decision as the charge of human trafficking had not been examined properly, but without success. Therefore, the applicants complained successfully before the ECtHR under Article 4 § 2 (prohibition of forced labour) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

This landmark decision was celebrated by human rights organisations across Europe. PICUM Director, Michele LeVoy, highlighted that the “Court has recognised the rights of all workers, and that governments have an obligation to prevent labour exploitation and provide justice to victims”, while Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director Gauri van Gulik expects the decision to “hopefully help prevent future abuses”.

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Photo: (cc) Laura D’Alessandro