Suspicions of human trafficking in berry picking recruitment

Finland’s minorities ombudsman has said the recruitment of Thai berry pickers has characteristics resembling human trafficking. Eva Biaudet said Thai citizens to who come to Finland’s forest to pick wild fruit during the summer are exploited and their treatment should be looked into.

Biaudet claimed she was misquoted when newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet reported that she said the custom actually involved human trafficking, but admitted that such suspicions do need to be examined.

“Pickers may have been encouraged to come to Finland by giving false information about conditions here. They might not have the possibilities to disengage from the situation, because their debt is unreasonable compared with the money earned,” she said.

Many Thai berry pickers are forced to work all summer to pay off loans taken out to fund the expensive journey from their homeland to Finland. Biaudet says she plans to discuss the situation with officials at a meeting this autumn.

Under the so-called everyman’s rights legislation, in Finland, foreigners do not require work permits to pick berries and mushrooms and the money made from such schemes is not taxed. Around 2,000 pickers came to Finland from Thailand this summer.