Claiming victory against Unilever, ’Fralibs’ will take over their factory in Gémenos

by Sophie Chapelle

This is a massive trade-union victory”, say the delighted ’Fralib’ workers. After occupying their tea-producing factory for three and a half years in Gémenos, Southern France, the ’Fralibs’, as they are called after the name of their former company, finally came to an agreement with Unilever on the 25th May, 2014.

This article was originally published in French Translation: Rebecca Ballard.

This agreement means we can start looking into real prospects for developing our SCOP [cooperative production society]”, say the local representatives of French union CGT. They pay tribute to the Labour Department’s role in brokering the deal “in the home stretch”. The Fralibs had pledged to force Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever to take up all its responsibilities following its decision to close the factory at Gémenos in September 2010 - a closing which was supposed to result in the dismissal of all 182 employees. The task now at hand, for them, is to relaunch an alternative, local, ecological industrial project. After a long judicial procedure with several unexpected developments, and a wide grassroots mobilisation in support of their cause, there will be no further obstacles to the employees’ project to resume work as a cooperative.

According to the Fralibs, the multinational consumer goods company agreed to provide “financial support for the development of the employees’ alternative project”, thanks to a “series of measures contributing to the cooperative’s commercial development”. Even if they did not succeed in persuading Unilever of handing over to them the brand Eléphant, as they had hoped, Fralib will benefit from the multinational’s support in terms of “research into production prospects, brand creation, commercial and administrative strengthening, along with a market study and a consistent contribution to the working capital". The agreement also guarantees “Unilever’s participation in the refurbishment, development and specialisation of the factory equipment”.

Greedy multinationals are finished”, the ’Fralibs’ had promised. Now begins the next stage of building, developing and making viable the production natural herbal and fruit teas through what is henceforth a cooperative. Out of the 182 factory employees, around 60 should eventually be taken on by the SCOP.

Sophie Chapelle