Over the past three months Madrid-based package company OGC has left 5,000 Ecuadorians in Spain without their deliveries. The company closed on Tuesday without warning its 30 employees, who were surprised that documents had been destroyed and stored goods had disappeared. The owners had “vanished,” staff said. Some of the packaged goods were worth as much as €35,000, since the minimum weight for each shipment was 30 kilos.
All OGC’s other Spanish branches – in Murcia, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona and Hospitalet de Llobregat – have also closed this week. The firm had another outlet in Brussels, which collected packages from across Europe before sending them to Spain for shipping to Ecuador, the only country to which it sent deliveries. An estimated 5,000 people have been affected by the events; 3,000 of them in Madrid.
I’m desperate, I’ve lost everything. I was sending my belongings in order to return to my country Jacqueline Alfaro, 45
Outside the OGC office in Madrid on Wednesday, Vicente Franco, 62, an unemployed Ecuadorian who has lived in Spain for the past 40 years, exchanged contact details with other compatriots affected by the closure. They made the trip down after hearing that the company had closed overnight without warning, leaving in limbo thousands of packages sent over the last three months – the maximum amount of time, according to their contracts, that the parcels would take to reach Ecuador.
Mónica Piedra, 52, shipped a box of glassware on August 26 last year, but the package has still not arrived at its destination. Her €254 shipment weighed more than the required 30 kilos. Each shipment costs €4.50 a kilo and customers were obliged to specify that the objects were secondhand to avoid paying customs taxes in Ecuador, which is why many people lack receipts to prove they own the goods.
The flow of people asking for explanations at OGC headquarters has been constant. A young man arrived crying because “he had lost everything.” No one was answering his calls. He said he had been “swindled” out of €35,000 and pinned the blame on the owners of the company, brothers Óscar and Edward Z..
Víctor Bustán, 40, went to the OGC offices after receiving a WhatsApp message from his brother-in-law who had read about the closure on Facebook. Those affected by the scandal have created a group to share information and begin taking legal action. “The bills for my packages amounted to around €4,000, to which you also need to add €2,000 in shipping costs.”
Víctor had sent aluminum windows, ceramics, and two hydro-massage showers for the house he is building in Loja, a city in the south of Ecuador.
“I’m desperate, I’ve lost everything,” said Jacqueline Alfaro, 45. “I was sending my belongings in order to return to my country.” Between October and February, she had made six shipments. She paid more than €2,610 for shipping but cannot quantify the value of the objects.
Many of those affected suspect the closure was premeditated. In January many customers began receiving telephone calls offering them promotions to send packages to Ecuador. The following month, the company signed agreements committing to deliver shipments by a certain date in order to calm nervous customers who had still not received packages sent as far back as August.
The firm’s 90 workers say they are also victims of the closure: they have not been paid in three months and nobody warned them that they would no longer be able to work. This week 25 of them, most of whom worked in Madrid, met with the UGT labor union, which helped them file a complaint in order to retrieve the wages owed to them.
One of the workers highlighted that they were only contracted to work four hours a day, but in reality worked almost 20, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays included. “We only had one day off a week. They gave us a monthly paycheck of €700 and another €1,300 under the table”, he said.
One employee says that five trucks arrived at the storehouse over the weekend to take away the most valuable objects, such as TVs and washing machines
Accompanied by colleagues, this employee spent Saturday at the warehouse that OGC rented in Madrid's Villaverde district. They were able to enter because they had keys. When they went inside, to their surprise, they discovered that all the computers had been removed and all the documentation had been destroyed. It was then that they filed the first complaint. Everything became clear on Monday when nobody appeared to open up the offices. They tried to get in contact with their bosses but to no avail. Another employee says that between Saturday and Sunday, five trucks arrived at the storehouse to take away the most valuable objects, such as televisions and washing machines.
The Ecuadorian Embassy is working with the victims to try to find a solution and has published a list of guidelines for those affected to follow. They say that the majority of packages sent back home from Spain by Ecuadorians are shipped through an agreement between the embassy and the Spanish post office. These shipments carry no costs for those who order them, but are slower than those undertaken by private companies.
The Ecuadorian embassy also noted that as the company was founded in Madrid it will be governed by Spanish laws.
Those affected could take years to get back their belongings, official sources have warned. A similar process occurred in 2011 when Vicza, a delivery firm that also specialized in sending packages to Ecuador, closed its offices. The victims of that case have yet to recover their shipments.
English version by Anne-Gaelle Sy.