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Without a boss, the former Elephant factory is still running on tea

“Ask the boss… Oh no, no more boss”: at a tea factory near Marseille, employees are proud of their atypical organization, eight years after taking over production from Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever which has closed the site to move it. In a large hangar located in Gémenos (Bouches-du-Rhône), they monitor and operate a machine that produces hundreds of tea bags and infusions per minute. Some still wear green blouses emblazoned with “Fralib”, the old name of their factory, when it was still run by multinational corporations. Boxes paraded down the conveyor belt, some marked with the French wholesale distributor’s brand logo and others with the number “1336”, the name employees chose for their own brand. “At +1336+ there is the number 13”, from the Bouches-du-Rhône department, Fabrice Caillol explained to AFP, “and it corresponds to 1336 days of fight against Unilever”, continues the technician, entering at Fralib in 1994. After the announcement of the relocation of activities to Poland in 2010 by the group, he took part in a long legal struggle, with about 75 employees, to keep the premises and machines and continue activities. cooperative. This has been done since 2014, with the creation of Scop-Ti. That year, “an agreement was signed by all parties, for payment of almost 20 million euros” for its launch, Unilever recalled in a statement to AFP. “We are no longer numbers, we feel people”, assures Fabrice Caillol, who says he is “proud” of the new production based on natural and French products (thyme from Provence, linden blossom from Baronnies, etc.), except for tea, from Asia. Their journey has inspired other initiatives, such as the employee’s takeover of Pilpa’s ice cream factory in Carcassonne (Aude) under the brand name La Belle Aude, or “Après M”, a former McDonald’s in Marseille that former employees converted to a back-to-work restaurant. But the former Fralib failed to meet one of their main demands: takeover of the original Marseille brand L’Eléphant, whose wrappers they produced under Unilever rule. The agribusiness group sold it in late 2021 to investment fund CVC Capital Partners, along with its entire tea division. “Right now when we talk a lot about short circuits, it makes sense for them to communicate about relocations” to Gémenos, slipping Olivier Leberquier, chairman of the board of directors of Scop-Ti, “but not the boss”, explains him. – Decreasing activity – His pleas for investment funds were innocent: the former maintenance technician and CGT delegate now had to face, like any company manager, difficulties at his factory, where production was far less than before. From 3,000 tonnes of tea bags annually with Unilever, Scop-Ti has grown to 220 tonnes. And if the former Fralib choose to keep the workers who want to (46 of the 182 workers in the factory), those who retire cannot all be replaced and there are now 37. The choice to keep all workers at all costs. extraordinary and very difficult to sustain,” said Fatima Bellaredj, general delegate of Scop’s general confederation, which represents cooperatives at national level. She explained that in situations like these, going out with a lesser team is less risky because you have to “rebuild yourself in a very different new market”. After six years of growth, which resulted in the first profits of 2020, Scop-Ti is now facing a decline in activity, particularly in relation to inflation. “People make choices: in a family, if you have to choose between a box of tea and steaks to feed the kids, tea will come after…”, explained Mr. Leberquier. Rising energy and packaging prices are also weighing on production costs, so Scop-Ti will have to raise their prices. “This year, we need a 30% increase. % but we reduced our margins to demand 13%” from distributors, he said. But in 2022, the company should make a small profit because The six metropolitan cities of Aix-Marseille, which had bought the space ten years ago to allow for a co-op project, must sell it by the end of January to a group of mutuals, who will split it up. rent two. “Now the aim is to last […]Fabrice Caillol said, for our posterity, that we can create masterpieces”. cdc/iw/vk

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