Lack of hands for Finnish berry picking after Thai trafficking case

Bilberries, also known as European blueberries, grow wild in Lapland and are packed with antioxidants.

While raspberries, cranberries and blueberries ripen in Finland, the firms can’t keep up, after Thailand decreased the number of berry picking visas. Where 3,500 Thai were granted a seasonal visa for Finland in 2017, that number decreased to 2,500 in 2018. Merely 2,400 have been allowed to go to the Northern country to pick berries for the 2019 season.

Finnish firms are therefore desperate and ready to employ seasonal workers from other Asian countries according to the Finnish news media Yle.

Vernu Vasunta, CEO and owner of Kiantama, a berry producer in Mid-Eastern Finland, told Yle that he “wants to recruit pickers from Vietnam and China”.

However, Leena Liukkonen, head of the Foreign Ministry’s visa unit, is not welcoming this idea to the table.

“The poorer the country of origin, the greater the risk of falling victim to human trafficking in Finland or the Schengen area,” Leena Liukkonen wrote in an e-mail to Yle.

Furthermore, she adds, it is not always Finland’s decision to grant a visa as applications from some countries must be reviewed by other Schengen states.

Trafficking a possible culprit

Finland has not had any success in negotiating additional visas with Thai officials. Olli Sorainen, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy’s Executive Counselor, told Yle earlier this summer.

Thailand’s cut in visas could be due to a case in 2018 where the owner of a berry company was convicted of trafficking 26 Thais to Finland.

At the time, Yle wrote about the case:

“The prosecutor said in court that the plaintiffs had to work 15-hour days, and much of their earnings went to pay off debts accrued from their journey to Finland. The pickers were accommodated in trailers and shipping containers, which also hosted their sanitary and food preparation facilities.”

Among other, the owner was ordered to pay a compensation of 200,000 euros in total to the 26 Thai berry pickers.

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