Finnish Berry picking boss sentenced to prison on charges of human trafficking of Thai workers

A photograph taken by police during the initial investigation showed some of the conditions the victims were forced to live under. Image: Sisä-Suomen poliisilaitos

The Finnish Supreme Court has sentenced the head of a Central Finland berry picking firm to one year and ten months in prison on 26 charges of human trafficking involving Thai berry pickers, media HS writes.

The pickers traveled to Finland from Thailand to pick wild berries and mushrooms for about three months in 2016. The defendant accommodated the pickers in the town of Hankasalmi in Central Finland on premises where safety inspections had revealed safety deficiencies. The shipping containers and trailers where the workers lived were in such a condition that they could cause harm to health. 

During their time in Finland, the Thai berry pickers were forced to work 15-hour days for little or no pay, as their earnings went to pay off debts accrued from their journey to Finland. The pickers had to hand over their passports and plane tickets to the staff and were not guided well enough in carrying out their tasks and therefore did not collect enough berries, which resulted in lower wages.

“This resulted in the workers having virtually no money to meet their basic needs during their stay in Finland. The berry pickers worked long working days with virtually no opportunity for holidays, ”the Court decision states. 

HS interviewed the pickers in Thailand about their situation before they had to return to Finland for trial.

About the situation at the time, one berry picker named Somthawin Misuk said, “My hopes were ruined. There was a lot of debt and my mood was unstable.”

The case has lasted for three years and the defendant was first sentenced by the district court in 2018 on a 20-month suspended prison sentence for trafficking 26 people from Thailand, as well as for charges of fraud and violations of waste management laws. The defendant was also sentenced to pay his victims a total of more than 200,000 euros in lost earnings and other compensation. 

However, the probation sentences were in 2020 reduced by four months by the Vaasa Court of Appeal because it considered the case as a single trafficking act and not 26 individual cases.

But now the Supreme Court has overturned this decision and charged the defendant on 26 separate offenses in the case because the defendant had violated the individual freedom, self-determination, and personal safety of each of the berry pickers.

The court also upheld the convictions for fraud and violations of waste management laws. Due to the seriousness of the crime, the court imposed a prison sentence on the defendant even though this is a first-time offense.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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