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France Telecom Suicide Justice France

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France Telecom executives may be tried over harassment charges

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Former France Telecom's chief executive Didier Lombard in 2010. AFP/Eric Piermont

French prosecutors have called for telecommunications giant France Telecom, now renamed Orange, and its former executives to face trial over a wave of employee suicides.


After a probe lasting seven years, prosecutors have asked an investigating judge to bring harassment charges against the company and its former chief executive Didier Lombard.

Seven executives may be tried

Prosecutors want similar charges to be brought against the company's former number two, Louis-Pierre Wenes and its former human resources chief, Olivier Barberot.

Other four executives could be tried for complicity in the harassment, according to the requests, which were dated 22 June.

Unions and management accept that 35 France Telecom employees took their lives between 2008 and 2009.

Lombard stepped down as a result of the deaths.

The investigation focused on 39 employees as "victims" -- 19 who took their own lives, 12 who attempted suicide and eight who suffered from deep depression or who were forced to stop work as a result.

The company had been privatised in 2004, leading to major restructuring and job losses.

The deaths triggered questions about the way employees were managed and how the company dealt with stress.

Prosecutors say the company and the chief executive introduced a policy of unsettling employees in order to accelerate resignations.

A lawyer for civil parties and the SUD-PTT trade union, Jean-Paul Teissonniere, said the prosecutors' move gave him "great satisfaction even [...] without mention of involuntary homicide or reckless endangerment".

Another union, the CFE-CGC, demanded the company be charged with involuntary homicide, saying: "A deliberate disregard has been clearly demonstrated that threatened the lives of personnel for the sole goal of cutting jobs in order to increase profits."
 

- AFP