Who are the gilets noirs?

The group struck again a few weeks later. The new target was the multinational Elior, a food and catering company, situated in what they called “the heart of imperialism” – known more commonly as Paris’ business district. They occupied the lobby of the company’s headquarters for several hours, while members and supporters staged a rally outside, until securing a meeting with company management. Elior, which has over a hundred thousand employees across 15 countries, was accused of employing and exploiting undocumented migrants. Activists claim the company withholds pay, uses migrants’ precarious legal situation against them if they complain, and won’t sign the necessary documents which would allow workers to regularize their immigration status. Many gilets noirs work for cleaning and construction companies, Kanouté told me: “Lots of companies go for undocumented migrants over other workers… because they know they can exploit them.” The group also said they targeted Elior group to highlight how the company provided cleaning, catering and laundry to several French detention centres; where migrants clean the very courts, detention facilities, and airports in which they are judged, detained and deported. The gilets noirs also spoke about the water, oil and arms companies stationed in the business district and the role they play in the neocolonial plunder of Africa. Gilets noirs member Mamadou explained that it was important to make these connections about France exploiting resources and selling arms in Africa, a relationship known as françafrique. “They don’t want countries in Africa to be independent, because then they can’t make a profit from us. They just want us to stay down on our knees, and then they can exploit our resources and make profits”, he said.

Luke Butterly in Who are the gilets noirs? (New Internationalist)