France Telecom execs may be tried over suicides

Agence France-Presse
Ex-France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard speaks at the company's annual general meeting in Paris on May 26, 2009.
Ex-France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard speaks at the company's annual general meeting in Paris on May 26, 2009. 
Philippe Wojazer

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, an investigation source said Thursday.

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, the source told AFP.

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.

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

A spokesman for Orange said the request for a trial was "a normal stage in the procedure (that) does not assume how the judge will decide."

Unions and management accept that 35 France Telecom employees took their own 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 privatized in 2004, leading to major restructuring and job losses.

Between 2006 and 2008 it wanted to shed 22,000 jobs and train 10,000 employees for redefined jobs as it adapted to new technologies.

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

Prosecutors say the company and the chief executive introduced a policy of unsettling employees in order to induce them to quit.

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."