Finland Trafficking Trial Begins for Thai Berry Pickers

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Debt BondageForced LaborHuman TraffickingLaw & Policy

The trial of a Finnish entrepreneur charged with human trafficking Thai berry pickers has begun in Finland. The migrant workers were brought to Finland in the summer of 2016, but found themselves in situations of forced labor. The prosecution is calling for the businessman to be sentenced to more than three years in prison and to be barred from running another business. They also want him to pay 60,000 Euros in damages.

YLE News reports that much of the case centers on debt bondage:

According to the prosecutor, some of the plaintiffs were first timers who came to Finland to do berry picking. However they felt that they were had been lured into a trap with vague promises about the working conditions they would find and eventually exploited.

The labourers had borrowed money make the trip to Finland, with the intention of using the income earned from berry picking to paying off their debts. The workers generally borrowed enough to cover half of the cost of the trip, some 35,000 baht, or just short of 1,000 euros.

The accused has denied all of the charges brought against him.

The Thai workers testified in court that they had to live in makeshift accommodations, including old buses and trailers. However, the defense has argued that these conditions were adequate.

The berry pickers also explained that their boss confiscated their passports — an indicator of forced labor according to the International Labour Organization — meaning that they had no ability to leave.

Finnish legal experts say this case will test what constitutes human trafficking under national law. Turku University Labour Law Professor Seppo Koskinen said that “Human trafficking has been seen as a very unusual offence. If the minimum criteria are constantly falling, the original intent of the legislation will no longer be satisfied.”

The verdict in the trial is expected early next year.

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