Foreign Policy Blogs

French Employee Suicides after the France Telecom Tragedy

French soldiers on patrol in Paris during Euro 2016 tournament

Since 2006 and peaking after 2008, several employee suicides took place after the privatization of France Telecom. Now part of international telecommunications giant Orange, sixty France Telecom employees committed suicide over a three year period as cut backs destabilized that company and developed into what could be described as a toxic work environment. In 2016 the incidences at France Telecom, now Orange, lead prosecutors to attempt to put the onus on management as it was claimed that cuts were tied in with attempts to purposely create a work environment that would negatively encourage employees to leave for their jobs.

Creating a difficult work environment married with drastic cutbacks might have violated a French law that establishes that anyone who harasses another with repeated actions with the aim or the effect of degrading working conditions is liable to a year in jail and a fine of €15,000. Directors of France Telecom at the time may eventually end up being fined or spending time in prison, but it is unlikely a violation of labour law would result in a severe punishment, and proof in a criminal law context may be too difficult to establish in the case of France Telecom. A national discussion, tribunal or even a trial may help French society understand why so many employees took their own life while working at France Telecom. While France still tries to deal with the tragedy, 2017 brought more mass employee suicides, this time within France’s police services.

Securing France after several attacks on French civilians have placed the burden of protecting the public on France’s police officers and Gendarmerie Nationale. With a drastic change in the security environment in France over the last few years, France’s protectors have been stretched to their limits trying to prevent attacks on innocent civilians and directly on themselves. Despite new policy approaches in 2015 to help prevent further suicides, eight officers took their own lives in a one week period alone. The numbers are truly shocking year after year as 45 French police officers and 16 members of the Gendarmerie have committed suicide this year alone. In 2015, the new policy came about after 55 police officers and 30 gendarmes took their lives. Unfortunately the added stress combined with already poor working conditions and a general negative sentiment towards officers has produced a difficult and dangerous situation for many officers according to France’s police union Alliance.

Like France Telecom, many employees and officers seem to feel trapped in impossible situations from their employer or in their role in society. Employment in France and Spain for younger employees is hard to come by with unemployment in some European countries for adults under 35 reaching as high as 25%. Simply switching jobs may feel like losing a career and a life spent establishing stability and the ability to provide for one’s self and their family. While there are many factors that can be difficult to understand for those not working in those environments, the fact that French employees commit suicide in certain organisations at such a high rate over a few short years is clearly a national crisis. These issues are not limited to France, as incidences at Foxconn and other international companies demonstrate that toxic work environments and tactics to constructively dismiss employees can lead to abusive practices on individuals and groups of employees. Solutions need to be developed starting with understanding the problem, requiring perhaps documented, recorded and directly experienced officials in work environments where it is difficult to have a voice, and to have independent reviews not linked to already established power structures in their organisation. Most importantly, solutions and legal actions need to have teeth so that policy solutions are not solely produced and documents without an effective change in policy. These solutions need to be applied evenly and fairly on large companies as they are on smaller ones. Threats that fall into the realm of criminal law should be treated as criminal as well as labour law violations. A national emergency that leads to terror incidences may require a more specialized and coordinated approach as well that gives assistance, training and more officers for support. Those solutions are only the first steps in addressing these types of issues in the workplace.



Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration