when “solidarity holidays” become a nightmare


I work seven days a week, sometimes until 8pm. I always need to do more. » After graduation, Isaure dreamed of a trip MEDICINES, immersed in a new culture. An attractive offer of wwoofing in a sled dog farm seduced him. Heading to Swedish Lapland in November 2020. He lived in pain for two months.

the wwoofing there is the beginning of the desire to encourage green tourism. The principle: work for free on the farms in exchange for room and board, for holidays at a lower cost. The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms association was born in the 1970s in the United Kingdom, and gave, despite itself, its name to wwoofing ». In France, the concept arrived in 2007 and now has more than 23,000 members, guests and visitors.

If Wwoof France operates a strict control of offers, other platforms, more ambiguously, take advantage of the positive meaning of the term. wwoofing » lead a business useful. A laxity that opens the door to all excesses.

The owner acted like a teacher »

That’s the concept of wowfing successful. The Workaway and HelpX platforms understand this well. In these sites, beautiful views and the faces of hospitable hosts. Isaure, Fany, Julie, Estelle and Anna [*] : everyone is seduced by these alternative holidays. More responsible, these farm stays seem to give real meaning to their trip. An ideal of sharing culture and ecology. At least on paper.

In 2019, Fany, in her twenties, was lured by a Workaway ad to work at an ecological lodge and yoga center in the Costa Rican jungle: welcoming customers, cooking, gardening… The young woman quickly disappointed: There were almost no customers, but about ten volunteers, almost exclusively women between 20 and 30 years old. » Mak, the American founder of the lodge, leads the ceremonies there Radical Honesty »a community born in the United States promoting a radical honesty ».

Mak gathered us on the yoga deck and asked us to express all our emotions, she encouraged the girls to cry and say what they were thinking to others. We would have thought we were in for a bad remake of the Yes Manwhere he tried to convince us of his “therapy”he is like a guru »sobbed the young woman.

Example of hosts offered worldwide on the Workaway platform. Screenshot Workaway

The experience of Fany and her friend is not an isolated case. Julie, in a honey farm in Brittany, where there is no honey or bees, finds herself witnessing a sexual game between three other people, against her will. Estelle, she, in the middle of a torn Irish family, in the middle of a crisis…

On their way home, everyone wanted to point out these bad hosts. However, it is difficult to criticize anything that has been done volunteers », without any established contract. Cécile Paturel, coordinator of Wwoof France, criticizes these companies that deviate from the concept: Work and partner, it’s just dumb greenwashingthey offer to volunteer in India with touching photos, this is a cry baby business. »

The Labor Code, absent on holidays

Unfulfilled promises of sun vacations. In Martinique, Anna worked more than eight hours a day in the heat. The right to work ? Does not exist. In France, the legislation is not respected on this subject for the simple and good reason that the wwoofing no legal status. Luc Kirkyacharian, a labor law lawyer for forty years in Montpellier, is clear on this point: The Labor Code is silent on this because it is not an employment contract. » To justify the existence of wwoofingother pages must be turned over: those of the Civil Code.

These green holidays are justified by the concept of barter. But what are the limitations of this idea of ​​exchange ? Isaure, who went to a sled dog farm in Finland, tried them: The boss texts me day and night about what I should do. » Workaway, however, defines the exchange as a few hours of help offered in exchange for room and board ».

The platforms can ultimately be defined as simple matchmaking sites. The lawyer from Montpellier explains: They reject all responsibility, do not offer a model agreement, distribution of tasks, etc. It’s a bit like dating sites, people choose each other. » the wwoofers then civil liability is required, the only form of insurance valid during these holiday holidays.

The soil is full of arsenic »

In Finland, Isaure runs into some unexpected risks: During some training rides, the chief, bad, accelerated, tried to knock me out of the sled. We could have been seriously injured. »

Fearing for her health, Sarah, also had to terminate her experience of unity » earlier than expected. In May 2021, he vacationed in an eco-place, called Baffrancou, in Limousis, in the Aude. I was working in the vegetable garden, when the granddaughter of the couple who welcomed me came to tell me that the soil was full of arsenic. Which explains why I haven’t seen them work yet… » now ironically the student. For several years, in fact, many associations have focused on soil pollution inherited from the department’s old gold mines.

Contacted by ReporterThe Baffrancou crowd denied it: We are still working on permaculture, research is ongoing, but the first no risk. » However, the owner admitted that he found small traces of arsenic in his children’s urine after analysis. If he admits be transparent » with the volunteers in the Workaway ad, however, there is nothing to warn of soil contamination in the description of the offer. Today, the other two families living in Baffrancou have left the site because of soil contamination. the wwoofersthey keep scrolling.

Wwoofing sites offered by the Wwoof platform, in France. Screenshot of Wwoof France

the wwoofing However, it remains a commendable concept if the right platforms, here those included in the original Wwoof site, connect the right people. Barbara [*] had a unique experience leaving 19, alone, in a Scottish field through Wwoof Great Britain.

A business of “ mysterious platforms »

The worst excesses occur in stays coordinated by the Workaway and HelpX sites. No phone number available. Front companies with untraceable head offices. In case of misleading advertisement, person to contact or against whom to turn.

Fany, in Costa Rica, has many surprises: Very quickly, the host asked us for money: 10 dollars a day. What was not specified in the announcement, nor when we exchanged with him on Skype before the trip. » An idyllic setting, but a deal » and a principle of wwoofing disrespectful. Cécile Paturel, from Wwoof France, highlights this: They are companies, we are an association. The goal is to make money and not profit. » Drifts are rare on the French platform and some problems are regulated. Cécile Paturel confirmed: We have a whole system of feedback, on-site referents who visit the farms. If we make a mistake about a host, we will exclude it. »

In HelpX, these wwoofing ads offer as missions: garden and land maintenance, cut some trees, restore houses… Screenshot HelpX

About ten of wwoofers and hosts are banned every year from Wwoof France. An arrangement not enabled by Workaway and HelpX. the MSAthe agricultural social mutuality, wants to prevent their lack of seriousness and strongly supports Wwoof: The practice of wwoofing must be limited to the objective of the Wwoof France association. »

Without these controls, nothing could be easier than posting an ad on these mysterious platforms. We made the move. A name and an email are enough to create a fake profile. In a few clicks, our Survey Farm » a volunteer offer like the rest of HelpX. Believed to be located in the heart of Toulouse, the farm, with photos taken from Google Images, does not arouse suspicion.

However, dealing with these sites with their own limitations seems like an impossible mission. We contacted HelpX through the only way to reach them: an online form. Radio silence. As for Workaway, the platform responded to our interview request by sending a press release highlighting the virtues of their concept. When their lack of control and excesses were discussed, Workaway did not respond to our requests.

Our fake farm is therefore likely to be accepted by the public. Volunteers, so true, for the holidays without.

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