Prosecutors to consider suspected human trafficking of Thai berry pickers

Police believe the Thai berry-pickers were subjected to conditions comparable to forced labour. (Janne Järvinen / Yle)

Investigators believe there are at least 170 suspected victims in the case, and could be as many as 2,000.

A wide-ranging investigation into the suspected human trafficking of people from Thailand to work as berry pickers in Finland has been completed by police, and the case file handed over to prosecutors for consideration.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) suspects five people of committing crimes in relation to the case, which took place between 2020 and 2022.

Police believe the Thai nationals were recruited to Finland to pick berries for commercial operators but were subjected to conditions comparable to forced labour, with many left without any earnings at the end of their seasonal working period — or even in debt to their employers.

The investigation has been carried out in a joint operation headed by the NBI but also involving the Finnish Border Guard as well as the police departments of Helsinki, Lapland and Western Uusimaa.

During the course of the probe, investigating officers say they have spoken to about 170 Thai nationals who they believe to be victims of human trafficking — with the investigation still ongoing in Thailand.

“There are potentially more than 2,000 victims, most of whom are in Thailand,” Detective Inspector Teemu Mäntyniemi of the NBI said.

The preliminary investigation has focused on the activities of two Finnish berry firms and one Thailand-based company, under the suspicion that the Thai pickers were victims of aggravated human trafficking.

Finnish media have reported that one of the companies is Polarica, headed by CEO Jukka Kristo, while authorities in Thailand say another berry firm, Kiantama, is suspected of similar practices.

Prosecution of government official

In addition to the two Finnish berry companies, another suspect in the case is Olli Sorainen, a senior official at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Sorainen was previously involved in the drafting of a law aimed at preventing the mistreatment of workers in the berry-picking sector.

He is suspected of accepting bribes and abusing public office.

“The preliminary investigation has focused on what kind of benefits the official has requested and whether these benefits may have had an impact on the authority’s activities, including the drafting of legislation,” Detective Inspector Maria Vuorivirta said.

The case against Sorainen will be transferred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for consideration in the near future.

Related stories from around the North :

Canada : It’s ‘weird busy’ this summer, says Yukon shop owner. Tourists came back but the workers didn’t, CBC News

Finland : Exploitation of foreign workers an “open secret” in Lapland tourism sector, Yle News

Sweden : Sweden, Norway and Finland cooperating to attract workers to the far north, Radio Sweden

Yle News

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