French telecoms giant Orange on trial over wave of employee suicides

Over a three-year span 19 people took their lives and 12 attempted to kill themselves

Then chairman and CEO of France Telecom, Didier Lombard, and seven former or current managers are going on trial accused of moral harassment
Then chairman and CEO of France Telecom, Didier Lombard, and seven former or current managers are going on trial accused of moral harassment

France’s main telephone and internet company Orange and its former CEO are going on trial over a spate of suicides a decade ago.

Over a three-year span, 19 people took their own lives, 12 attempted suicide and eight cases of serious depression were reported among employees.

On Monday, a Paris court began a long-awaited trial accusing the telecoms giant and seven former or current managers of moral harassment and related charges.

The company, which was then called France Telecom, was undergoing job cuts and modernisation efforts at the time of the suicides.

The former president of France Telecom, Didier Lombard, is on trial along with former human resources director Olivier Barberot and former deputy executive director Louis-Pierre Wenes, in the largest trial to date in France for moral harassment on a company-wide scale.

The defendants are suspected of having “degraded work conditions of personnel that risked hurting their rights and dignity, altering the physical or mental health (of personnel), or compromising their professional future”.

Four other officials are suspected of complicity in moral harassment.

Moral harassment can be punished by a year in prison and a fine of €15,000 (£12,800). Orange itself is also on trial, and the court could order the company to grant additional damages to each civil party in the case.

An investigation into the wave of employee suicides between 2007 and 2010 was opened following a complaint from the Sud union. At the time, Mr Lombard allegedly referred to the deaths as “the fashion”.

Mr Lombard, who was replaced as France Telecom chief in 2010, has denied all the charges. He attributed the suicides, attempted suicides and cases of depression to “local difficulties with no links to each other” and no relation to the company’s job cuts at the time.

France Telecom, once a state-owned monopoly, transformed into a private company in the 2000s. Mr Lombard launched a restructuring plan aimed at shedding 22,000 jobs, but most employees were still considered civil servants and so were protected from layoffs.

As it sought to reduce staff, the indictment says the company imposed “excessive and intrusive control” on employees, assigned workers to demoralising tasks, failed to provide training, isolated staff and used “intimidation manoeuvres or threats and pay cuts”.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Mr Lombard’s lawyer, Jean Veil, says his client is innocent because he could not possibly know what was going on in France Telecom’s vast network of more than 100,000 employees.

If you have been affected by the issues in this article, you can contact the following organisations for support:

mind.org.uk

mentalhealth.org.uk

samaritans.org

nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth

Additional reporting by Associated Press

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in