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1 Jan 2009

Produkty grocery store lawsuit (re modern slavery in Russia)


Date lawsuit was filed
1 Jan 2009
Location of Filing: France
Location of Incident: Russia
Type of Litigation: International body


Produkty Russia Supermarkets & grocery



In 2009, a former employee of grocery store chain Produkty filed a criminal complaint in Russia alleging she had been forced to work under slavery like conditions for two years. She alleged abuses ranging from forced labour, passport confiscation, and beatings. After the local court failed to hear the claims, lawyers filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. 

C русской версией описания этого дела можно ознакомиться здесь.

Factual Background

In 2009, Fatima Musabaeva from Kazakhstan filed a criminal complaint against the owners of the grocery store chain “Produkty”, belonging to the Istanbekovs family, in the Galyanovo district of Moscow.  She claimed to have been forced to work under slavery-like conditions from 2007 until she managed to escape two years later.  Fatima alleged multiple severe abuses including forced labour, deprivation of liberty, passport confiscation and beatings.  She also claimed being forced to work 22-hours shifts without pay or proper breaks and to have lived in inhumane and degrading conditions.  However, a police officer refused to open an investigation and contacted the store owners who forcefully took Fatima back into the store.

In 2010, Fatima managed to escape for the second time and sought assistance from the International Organization for Migration in Moscow.  The organization’s lawyers helped Fatima to file another criminal complaint against her employers Zhanar Istanbekova and Rashid Musabekov.  However, the investigator refused to open a criminal case.  Her lawyers appealed this decision and the investigating officer reopened the case but later closed it without accusatory charges.

On 30 October 2012, a group of activists and journalists released 11 people from the back rooms of the store, owned by the Istanbekovs.  Victims, from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, allegedly spent up to 10 years under slavery-like conditions.  They claimed that they had been subjected to restriction of movement, torture, beatings and rape. 

Criminal investigations in Russia

On 4 November, the investigator opened a criminal case on suspicion of illegal deprivation of liberty of two or more persons against Zhansulu Istanbekova and Saken Muzdybaev.  However, the prosecutor’s office did not grant its approval and sent the case back for further investigation.  The case was sent back and forth between the investigation unit and the prosecutor’s office for three years.  The victims and their lawyers were not allowed access to any of the case materials until summer 2015.  On 3 June 2015, the investigator declined to file criminal charges.  The victims’ lawyers appealed but without success.

Proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights

On 25 November 2016, lawyers from several NGOs filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Fatima and three other women.  The complaint alleges violation of the prohibition of torture, discrimination, slavery and forced labour, as well as violation of the right to respect private and family life and to an effective remedy.

In December 2016, another store employee sought assistance from the anti-slavery NGO Alternativa.  She claimed she had been subjected to similar abuses as the other victims.  The NGO helped her file a criminal complaint against one of the store owners Zhansulu Istanbekova.  Two other NGOs intend to file a civil lawsuit against the store on behalf of the victim over unpaid wages.

Zhansulu Istanbekova and her family currently own several grocery stores in Moscow, where similar abuses allegedly take place.

- "Golyanovo Slaves" Case Reached Strasbourg, Julia Orlova, Memorial HRC, 27 Dec 2016
- Internal Investigations Division (IID) found offences on the part of policemen in "Golyanovo case", Civic Assistance Committee, 4 Apr 2013
- Court sessions on Golyanovo case were postponed for the third time, Civic Assistance Committee, 16 Feb 2013
- Attempt to Deport the Golyanovo Slaves Fails, Memorial HRC, 12 Nov 2012