DRAFT DOCUMENT 07.12.2010 Corrected 09.12.2010
A report on
The on-going struggle of Thai berry pickers in Sweden As Sweden and Finland attempt to ignore human tragedy in their attempt to market themselves as producers of pure, organic forest produce, the litany of tragic stories around the Scandinavian forest berry industry continues to grow, to defy significantly the imago of Sweden and Finland as upholders of human rights.
Thai berry pickers march to Ă…sele Town Hall, 15 October 2010. Junya Yimprasert Migrant Workers Union Thailand with the Thai pickers in Ă…sele kommun December 2010
The 2010 ‘Lomsjö Bär Case’, Åsele kommun, Sweden
How it began
A Slave Economy?
Their minimal Work Contract (-> legalisation of illegalities)
Actual working hours
Chronology of the ‘Lomsjö Bär Case’ 2010
Some personal stories
Summary and Conclusions
Appendix 1. Work Contract
Appendix 2. Claimants Work Sheet and estimated earnings
Appendix 3. Decision of Lomsjö Bär Ab bankruptcy lawyers
INTRODUCTION From 2000 increasing numbers of neglected rural people from Southeast Asia, notably from North-East Thailand, began hearing that money could be earned in Sweden - picking forest berries in July, August and September. In 2007 the Government of Sweden stepped in to ‘officialise’ the inflow of berry pickers, by restricting tourist visas for berry-picking and granting a number of Swedish and Thai ‘food and beverage’ companies licence to import pickers from Southeast Asia - to pick for the forest berry industry. Regulation in 2007 had the effect of stimulating the labour trafficking chains and networks. The influx of pickers increased greatly, as did the proportion of pickers returning home with empty pockets - deeper in debt than when they left. (See http://www.scribd.com/doc/25137612/labourtrafficking-blueberry-fiasco-in-sweden) By 2010 huge personal losses were affecting all ethnic groups, not just the Thai. After just one week into the 2010 season, Chinese pickers were marching on the streets of Storuman. One week later Vietnamese pickers were marching in Nordmaling, and Swedish media gave coverage to the deception of Bangladeshi pickers in Bracke (Central Sweden). Many Southeast Asian pickers arrive in Sweden and Finland as husband-and-wife or fatherand-son teams. The majority still come from the arid farming region of Northeast Thailand e.g. from the provinces of Chaiyaphum, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. Pickers disgruntled with the conditions in Sweden may return to try their luck in Finland and vice versa. Despite weak overtures from the Thai Ministry of Labour, which continues to maintain a dismally corrupted policy of outbound labour migration, Norway has sensibly, as yet, not joined this circus of exploitation. To date, since 2007, the total number of Thai pickers recruited to Scandinavia by licensed ‘food and beverage’ agencies is up around 23 000. To this figure can be added about 7 000 Thai pickers who have arrived, more-or-less penniless, as ‘self-employed tourists’: altogether about 30 000 pickers since 2007. The annual number of experienced or ‘regular pickers’ is probably not more than about 1000. In other words the annual number of ‘newcomers’ - pickers with no previous experience of picking forest berries in Scandinavia - is around 70% of the total influx. In 2009 Thai pickers estimated that, after all deductions by agents and employers, 80% of the Thai pickers returned from Scandinavia to Thailand in greater debt than when they left. Some 1,300 submitted complaints about their losses to the Thai Ministry of Labour. The 2010 berry season in Sweden heated up with reports of 120 Chinese pickers protesting against their agents on August 6. This was following by the protest of 70 Vietnamese pickers, who turned their frustration on their own camp leaders - beating and locking them up. Facing the impossibility of repaying loans taken in Vietnam to travel to Sweden, around 150 of the 290 Vietnamese pickers decided to remain in Europe as illegal, migrant workers. Most of these Vietnamese owed their recruiting agents 15,000 - 25,000 SEK: a year and more of work in Vietnam. Almost all the recruiting agencies (‘food and beverage companies’) importing pickers into Scandinavia have had cases of exploitation and cheating brought against them. In-the-face of all this cheating of unprotected, poor people, state authorities continue to assist the very same companies in recruiting and importing poor farmers into Europe.
The 2010 ‘Lomsjö Bär Case’, Åsele kommun, Sweden 280 farmers from Northeast Thailand were recruited to pick forest berries for Lomsjö Bär Ab, Enånger, Sweden, by agent Phumkacha Nakkum, Chaiyaphum, Thailand.
The 39 Thai pickers that stayed behind in Åsele to struggle for what they had earned.
How it began In March - April agent Phumkacha set about recruiting pickers for Lomsjö Bär Ab, through announcements made over the community radio in the province of Chaiyaphum. Those who heard told their family and friends. Those who were interested had to go to Phumkacha’s House, Phu Kiew District, to sign the work contract and settle on payment of the Recruiting Fee. For large meetings Phumkacha used space at the nearby temple. Farmers were told the Recruiting Fee was 75,000 Baht / person, of which 25,000 Baht must be paid as a deposit on application (the ‘First Payment’). They were told the remaining sum of 50,000 would be advanced to them - by Lömsjö Bär Ab - and be deducted from their earnings in Sweden. Agent Phumkacha managed to collect 25,000 Baht from 280 applicants - 7 million Baht in total.
After being granted visas in early July, Phumkacha told his 280 recruits to pay their ‘Second Payment’, between 2,300 - 3,000 Baht (depending on how far from Bangkok they lived) ostensibly for a half-day training at the Ministry of Labour in Bangkok, altogether around 800 000 Baht. In mid-July Phumkacha told his 280 recruits that Lomsjö Bär had ‘more important commitments’ and no money for Thailand. Each recruit must thus pay him the remaining part of the Recruiting Fee - the 50,000 Baht. The recruits knew this included payment of flight tickets, but received no actual break-down of Phumkacha’s expenses. With this new condition, only 156 pickers were able to find the 50 000 – most by borrowing from relatives and money-lenders at between 3 - 7% interest / month. One picker paid 20% / month. Some borrowed from the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) at 12% / annum. The remaining 124 recruits had to drop out of the play, but Phumkacha refused to return their First and Second Payments, altogether around 27 300 Baht. The whole group filed a case against Phumkacha at the Chaiyaphum Labour Office. Phumkacha claimed he had already spent more than half the money arranging visas. He proposed returning 10,340 Baht. 20 of the farmers accepted this money, but 104 are still demanding he pay them back in full.
Meeting between Thai pickers and representatives of the Åsele community, 15 October 2010.
A Slave Trade Economy? A. Summary of payments demanded by the agent / picker in Baht = ‘Recruiting Fee’. Demands on pickers were made without any clear explanation of for what. April - May Early - July End of July
First payment Second payment Third payment
25 000 3 000 50 000
Lomsjö Bär Ab ‘Recruiting Fee’:
(Paid by all 280 recruits) (Paid by all 280 recruits)
(Paid by 156 recruits) 78 000
B. Summary of known agent expenses / picker - as worked-out by the pickers themselves. Visas (Tourist + Work Permit Visa) 12 300 Insurance 2 300 Transport to half-day training in Bkk 700 Ticket price (for most pickers) 43 000 Transport in Sweden 7 700 Total expenses / picker - as discovered by pickers themselves:
(Swedish picker visa costs are x4 those in Finland.) (Private life insurance in Thailand.) (Prices from 39 000 –> 48 000 for last min. tickets.) (Paid to Lomsjö Bär by the agent.)
‘Agents Fee’ / picker (78,000 - 66,000): Money pocketed by agent from 156 pickers (156 x 12 000):
12 000 1 872 200
Money pocketed from the 124 recruits who did not go to Sweden (25 000 + 3000 x 124 – 12 300 + 3 000 x 124): 1 574 800
Total money pocketed by the recruiting agent:
+ 3 447 000 Baht
+ 832 609 SEK C. Summary of total cost / picker for going berry-picking in Sweden: ‘Recruiting Fee’ 78 000 Purchase of equipment (approx.) 3 000 (Shoes, clothes, dried food, luggage, medicine.) Loan Interests / 3 months 2 400 - 5 600 (@ 3 - 7% interest / month / 80 000 Baht loan.) Food & accommodation @ 800 Bht / day for 57 days 45 600 (Lomsjö Bär pickers in Sweden for only 57days.) Essential expenses in Sweden e.g. supplementary food & petrol 6 000 (1-3 000 SEK necessary for minimum decency.)
Total cost / picker for going berry-picking in Sweden:
- 135 000 to 138 200 Baht
- 32 609 to 33 382 SEK 6
Their minimal Work Contract (-> legalisation of illegalities) According to a work contract stamped by the Gävle notariat (See Appendix 1. ) the pickers: 1. must pay all travel costs to-and-from Sweden; 2. are guaranteed a minimum wage of 16 372 SEK / month for a 40-hour working week; 3. will be paid according to the kilo price of berries (about 10 SEK / kg) if they can pick more than the minimum wage (1 640 kgs of berries) during the 160-hour working month; Note: To pick more than the minimum wage a berry-picker would have to pick more than 10 kg of wild berries for every hour of their 40 hour week! 4. must pay income tax (at 25%). 5. will have190 SEK / day deducted from wages for accommodation, food and use of a vehicle. 6. will receive a daily cash subsidy of 50 SEK / person / day towards the cost of petrol. 7. will receive compensation (sum not stated) for 6 days of holiday between 20.07 - 05.10.2010. 8. will be paid on the 25 day of every month. 9. must give notice of 2 weeks for termination of contract. Although everybody knows that all immigrant forest berry-pickers must work a 12 – 18 hour day to make any profit. The Lomsjö Bär contract makes no mention of overtime, or payment of overtime. It says only that berry-pickers would be paid ‘extra wage’ over the minimum wage according to kilos picked x the kilo price of berries. Actual working hours: The Thai berry-pickers, that worked for Lomsjö Bär between August 12 to September 25, worked 7 days a week for 45 days. The approximately 700 hours of work accumulated by most pickers gives an average working day of 15.5 hrs. During this time most were able to pick between 1,800 and 2,400 kg of berries. Using the working hours given above, an average picker managed to pick around 3 kg / working hour. In other words, the Lomsjö Bär contract has no value and even less meaning, since, according to the terms of the contract, a berry-picker could not earn enough money to prevent them going home in debt. Thus the contract, authorised by the Public Notary in Gävle is, more-or-less, the instrument of a Slave Economy. Scandinavia’s ability to import large numbers of forest-berry pickers – from e.g. Thailand, Vietnam, China and Bangladesh - is still largely based on the ability of local agents like Phumkacha to seduce potential recruits with false verbal promises. Under the umbrella of scrappy companies like Lomsjö Bär, agents like Phumkacha are still able to operate with impunity alongside nonchalant, ignorant and superior attitudes, and straight-forward corruption, within the supposed-to-be responsible state authorities at both ends of the trafficking chain. Lomsjö Bär made many promises. It guaranteed (verbally) that pickers would receive a net income of not less than 50 000 Baht, that Sunday picking would be a cash bonus etc. It played along a well-worn path in labour trafficking: it had no money and no intention of keeping promises.
Working conditions: The Lomsjö Bär pickers arrived at Arlanda in large and small groups between 29 July and 16 August. Through agent Phumkacha, the pickers paid Lomsjö Bär for their transport to Åsele kommun. Picking began eventually on August 7, 3-weeks behind schedule, making the likelihood of these pickers being able to take money home even more remote. The pickers would leave camp between 04.00 and 05.00 hrs and return between 20.00 and 22.00 hrs. The pickers that arrived before work started on August 7 were promised they would not have to pay food and accommodation for this period. During this period they received two poor meals / day at 10.00 and 20.00 hrs. When Lomsjö Bär was declared bankrupt the pickers discovered this money (190 SEK / day) had been deducted by the bankruptcy lawyers: yet another broken promise. The pickers had reasonably good accommodation in an old school, but many got back pains in the wobbly beds and, in Thai tradition, many moved their mattresses to the floor. With the exception of their second week, for the whole of the working period their food remained inadequate, seriously lacking in nutrition, variety and volume. They took their breakfast and lunch with them to the forest: rice with fried cabbage and either 2 eggs or 2 chicken wings. In the evening they received rice and soup, providing they did not arrive from work too late. Many pickers relied on dried food they brought with them from Thailand - mainly instant noodles that they could dissolve in the forest in hot water carried in thermos flasks. They cooked mushrooms in the forest and were glad if (sometimes searching the source of gunfire) they could scavenge the entrails of animals left by ‘hunters’, which they boiled with rice and ate with chilli sauce. To stay well, most had to spend money buying supplementary food. Accident At the end of August, after working just ten days, a van with 8 pickers hit a reindeer. All received injuries. Three pickers - with broken arms, fingers and one broken leg - were hospitalised and had to stop work. None received any compensation – not even after submitting a complaint about absence of compensation to the local police. Such accidents, some even more serious, are an all too common aspect of the circumstances in which these imported berry-pickers are forced to exist – in Sweden and Finland.
Current situation By the end of August the 156 Lomsjö Bär pickers had been paid 6,000 SEK, after which date they received nothing. When on their September 25 pay-day the pickers did not receive any wages, either their outstanding wages from August or their wages for the whole of September, they decided to march through the streets of Åsele. Their protest was widely publicised in the Swedish media. The owners of Lomsjö Bär had emptied the company bank account and disappeared, as had agent Phumkacha, who was responsible for the pickers in their camp.
According to their ticket arrangements the pickers had to return to Thailand during the first week in October, and the majority did -- 117 people empty-handed after two months of work. They were met by a Thai Government representative in Bangkok, who gave them 100 SEK for the bus fare home. 39 decided they must remain in Sweden to struggle for the money they had earned. It must be stated here that the local people and authorities of Åsele kommun have been very understanding and supportive - providing warmth, clothes, food and security. Never-the-less, the point is that after returning to Thailand the life of many of these pickers can descend into humiliating chaos, as they attempt to face the often almost hopeless task of trying to pay their berry-picking loans, over-and-above those loans which drove them to migrant labour in the first place. Just the interest on loans taken to go to Sweden means they must pay 3,000 - 6,000 Baht / month - a sum equivalent to every penny of many a small farmer’s monthly earnings. The careless irresponsibility of the authorities that are supposed to keep check on CSR, business practices and labour trafficking is pushing hundreds of innocent lives into shame and misery. Also, the direct immediate cost to the ‘Isan farming community’ itself of sending, for instance, just 156 rural workers to pick berries for a company like Lomsjö Bär is around 16 million Baht, nearly 4 million SEK. The Swedish state must give full recognition to the extent and depth of the human tragedy being caused by the misconceptions and irresponsibility of its own authorities. As requested by the City of Luleå in 2009 and again now by Åsele kommun in 2010, the Swedish state must ensure that the human tragedies being caused by their very own, on-going forest-berry fiascos are brought to an end. This means recognising that between the ‘wild-berry processing industry’ (in the North) and the ‘labour trafficking business’ (in the South) there exists, under all the smiles, a slave economy. As one picker said at the end of the 2010 season: ‘We paid ourselves to be enslaved here’. So far the authorities have done all possible to avoid the issue of compensation when things go badly awry in their legalised illegal trafficking business. The Thai pickers caught-up in the Lomsjö Bär fiasco need to be properly compensated, not patronised, as have hundreds of berry-pickers before them - been in real need of just compensation for their families, not pocket-money along with a patronising pat on the head. Recruiting for 2011 has already begun in Thailand! How many people in the families of how many pickers will be pulled into deeper debt in 2011 by the wild-berry ambitions of the Scandinavian organic food industry?
CHRONOLOGY of the ‘Lomsjö Bär Case’ 2010 29 July – 16 August 156 Thai pickers, recruited by Lomsjö Bär Ab’s Thai agent, travel to Sweden - to Åsele - to pick forest berries, many as husband-and-wife or father-and-son teams. By the time these recruits climbed onto the aeroplane in Bangkok, expenses for each of them stood at around 80,000 Baht. August 1-7
Those arriving in camp in Åsele were told the picking season had not started (- it had). In practice this meant Lomsjö Bär had not yet mustered the cars required to start work. During this waiting period the company said it would not deduct daily expenses and served two poor meals a day.
Cars arrive in the evening.
Start of picking During August the pickers received 4 payments - of 200, 300, 500 and, on 25 August, 5 000 SEK, in total 6 000 SEK - more than 10 000 SEK less than the minimum wage promised in their contract. Most of the pickers found that they needed to spend all this money on purchasing supplementary food and petrol – in order to be able to function as berry-pickers.
Pickers receive no wage payment.
All 156 pickers march to the Åsele Police Station. No police at the station so no police to take their case.
March to the Åsele Kommun. Met with the Mayor and some staff. A local officer from the Kommunal came to the Mayorate and told the pickers to give her the details to their contract. Wide media coverage in Sweden about the protest in Åsele.
The pickers learned from the newspapers that Lomsjö Bär Ab was bankrupt.
Five representatives from the Thai Embassy flew from Stockholm to Umeå. The pickers drove to Umeå to meet them and take them to their camp in Åsele. After a couple of hours of discussion 3 went back to Stockholm. Two embassy staff remained to arrange for the pickers to go back to Thailand, saying that the Thai Embassy will follow-up on their case when they have returned to Thailand.
The two embassy staff travel with 117 pickers in an over-night bus, paid for by the Åsele kommun, to Arlanda Airport. 39 pickers refused to return to Thailand, stating that they will not return until they are paid what they are owed.
Two leaders of the remaining 39 pickers talk on the telephone with a Kommunal lawyer in Stockholm. The lawyer said that she would handle the case with urgency. This was the first of the only two conversations the pickers had with a Kommunal lawyer.
Launch of Facebook campaign to ‘Support the struggle of Thai berries pickers in Sweden’.
Short documentary in the Thai language on ‘The stories of 39 Isan pickers in Sweden’ posted on You Tube.
English version of the documentary posted on You Tube.
39 pickers march to Åsele Town Hall to meet with representatives of the municipal government and present their case concerning the money they consider is owed to them by Lomsjö Bär Ab. Pickers then spend several days working on their own time-sheets to come up with exact figures regarding how much they are owed by Lomsjö Bär. They estimate 80 – 90 000 SEK, and send and deliver the result to the Kommunal and to Ackordcentralen - the company handling the Lomsjö Bär bankruptcy.
11 pickers return to Thailand.
The 26 pickers remaining visit the Immigration Office in Umeå to extend their visas. The cost of visa extensions, 26 000 SEK, is paid by people in Åsele and the ICA Supermarket.
3 more pickers return to Thailand.
Buffet arranged by the Thai Community in Åsele to mobilise funds for the 28 pickers.
Lomsjö Bär Ab is officially declared bankrupt.
The owner of ICA Supermarket extends kindness and takes all Thai workers for a weekend outing to Skellefteå.
Pickers participate in the Loi Kratong Festival. Some pickers turn to earning pocket money cleaning gardens etc. for winter.
1 more picker returns to Thailand.
Lawyers of Ackordscentralen visit the picker’s camp and request pickers to settle for 11 000 – 13 000 SEK. The pickers sign but, since this means accepting less than one minimum wage (less than 25% of what they are owed) for their whole working period in Sweden, they decide to appeal against Ackordcentralen’s proposal for a settlement.
The Kommunal lawyer representing the pickers, informs them that 11 000 - 13 000 SEK (45 000 - 55 000 Baht) will be paid immediately, but informs the pickers that . . - she considers that she has done as much as she can;
- an appeal has little chance of success; - if they want to take the case further, they will need to find their own lawyer. The Thai pickers are once again looking for justice alone. 4
Birthday Party and Farewell Party for the remaining pickers. The Asele community and the Thai Restaurant Ple bring foods and cakes for the pickers. The party continues to 0700 hrs.
24 pickers leave Sweden, leaving one picker to follow-up on the case - with the support of ICA Supermarket.
Last day to appeal against the decision of Ackordcentralen - the Lomsjö Bär bankruptcy lawyers.
Some personal stories Seventy percent of the 156 pickers recruited for Lomsjö Bär in 2010 were small farmers with no previous experience of berry-picking. After the Lomsjö Bär bankruptcy, 25 of them remained in Sweden to fight for their rights. Of these 25, only 7 had previous berry-picking experience. In 2009 all of these 7 returned to Thailand in 2009 with a berry-picking debt of from 8 000 - 15 000 SEK. 3 of them filed cases against the company that recruited them - TS Law & Service, one of the four Thai agencies licensed to import pickers to Sweden. Here are some of their stories.
Bangon and Uthai Sosa Bangon and Uthai are a hard working couple from Mahasakam Province. In 2009, after picking 5 tons of berries in Sweden, they returned to Thailand with a berry-picking debt of 15 000 SEK. For the privilege of picking 5 tons of berries for the Swedish forest berry industry they had paid TS Law & Service 180 000 Baht (43,000 SEK). They were punished for not having picked 7 tons. In 2009 they watched their friends protest, but decided to stay silent because they knew that those who participated in protest would be banned from going to Sweden again. Despite their loss, they still regarded picking berries in Sweden as a possible means to offset their growing debts. “Last year I picked 90 - 120 kg every day, because it never got dark and we just kept working” said Bangon. “My husband and I picked about 5.2 tons for the company and we cannot understand why we didn’t get any profit.” “When I went to Sweden I weighed 58 kg. When I returned home I weighed only 44 kg. My mother was shocked when she saw me.” “We are trying to change our style of farming - from relying on cash-crops to producing organic vegetables for the local market. With sugar cane, beans and cassava we faced a constantly growing need for greater capital investment and our farming debt was over 200 000 Baht (50 000 SEK). By selling organic vegetables to the local market we were getting 100 - 200 SEK a day, but not enough to pay our debts.” When asked if she had tried to get support from her local administration or agricultural service she said . . “When we consulted them about our cash crops they only added to our problem with
even more expensive pesticides. When we requested a subsidy to support our switch to growing a variety of vegetables they showed no interest. When we asked for a cow they gave us a blanket.” Bangon went to Sweden with the hope of earning money to assist their transition to self-reliance as organic food producers. In 2009 sixteen villagers from Bangon’s village went to pick berries in Sweden with TS Law & Service, including herself and Uthai. All paid 90,000 Baht to the TS Law agent. All returned home deeper in debt. Eight of them decided they would return to Sweden in 2010 - to pay back their debts from 2009. All have had to return to Thailand in even deeper debt.
Rungrudee Phimbaesp Rungrudee has made four berry-picking trips to Sweden. In 2007 she returned to Thailand with 100,000 Baht, in 2008 with 50,000 Baht. In 2009 she decided to take her husband along, but they ended up with a joint berry-picking debt of 80,000 Baht. In 2010 she decided to give it one more go, but her husband stayed back. She signed-up with Lomsjö Bär: “I planned to pay back our 2009 debt but ended-up increasing the burden of debt on my family by another 80 000 Baht”.
Mongkut Jandabao Mongut went berry-picking in Sweden with his two brothers for the first time in 2009. All paid 95,000 Baht to the TS Law agent in Chaiyaphum - by mortgaging their land titles at 3% interest / month. Together the three brothers managed to run up a berry-picking debt of 90,000 Baht. They brought a case against TS Law and received compensation for 27,000 Baht. This year the 3-brothers team, determined to pay their debts from 2009, went back to Sweden by borrowing from a money-lender at 5% interest / month. They found themselves returning to Thailand with more than double the debt they had when they left.
Thawatchai (63) and Nongluck Tongpansa (60) Thawatchai and Nongluck, a hard working couple, decided to go berry-picking in Sweden with 11 friends from their District of Phukradung in the Province of Loei. All 13 were farmers that earn extra income by servicing local tourism in some way - fixing motorcycles, working as drivers, in food stores and carrying gear for tourists up the mountain of Phu Kradung. In order to be able to send their 3 children to school, from 1971 Thawatchai and Nongluck had been making the 5.5 km climb to the top of Phu Kradung (1 360 m), and thence another 3.5 km to the
campsite, with 30 - 50 kg of tourist baggage on their backs. With this hard portage they could earn 700 - 1,000 Baht per day. In 2002, at the age of 52 and 55, they decided enough was enough and began attempting to live as farmers, working a 12 rai (6 acre) plot of land, planting mainly cassava, corn and soybean. “Every year we lost and our debt with the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) reached 370,000 Baht.” When considering berry-picking in Sweden, the Phukradung people noticed that they could go berry-picking and still get back to Thailand in time for the opening of the tourist season on October 1st. It was to be Thawatchai and Nongluck’s first journey outside Thailand: “We were not worried about hard work . . and the agent said the company was guaranteeing we would come home with not less than 50 000 Baht after deductions . . so we decided to go.” “We had to borrow 200,000 Baht (50,000 SEK) with an interest rate of 5% / month, and this pushed our farming debt to 600,000 Baht (150 000 SEK)”. For Thawatchai and Nongluck, the 2010 berry season in Sweden has been a real tragedy. To return home with just 22 000 SEK, the sum offered by the lawyers managing the Lomsjö Bär bankruptcy, is like some kind of suicide pill for this honourable, hard-working elderly couple. The money will not pay 40% of the loan they took to go to Sweden. “After I saw the offer from the company I got a sudden headache and had to take pain-killer pills. Since then we have been able to think of nothing except how on Earth to pay the moneylender at 5% interest / month.“ Four of the Phu Kradung group returned to Thailand on 2nd October. Dear old Thawatchai and Nongluck have no chance of receiving justice in Thailand and, true to form, there were amongst the 9 members of their own Phukradung group that remained in Sweden to fight for justice. Footnote: Phu Kradueng National Park located in Amphoe Phu Kradueng of the Loei Province, is one of Thailand’s most famous national parks, with a peak at 1360 m. Tens of thousands of people climb the mountain every year. It became a protected forest in 1943 and was proclaimed a national park in 1959, the second in Thailand after the Khao Yai National Park.
Sangworn Kulnadee (33) and Khemporn Wanseeb (35) Sangworn went berry-picking for the first time in 2004 with an invitation from a Thai woman married to a Swede. Sangworn paid her 53,000 Baht for all arrangements, including ticket and visa, and earned just enough to cover this cost. In 2005 he went to Finland, paying 65,000 Baht to pick for Riittan Herkku, a largish food processing company. He returned with 90,000 Baht, enough
to motivate him to returned to RH in 2006, which proved to be the best year of many for many pickers. In Finland he met his second wife-to-be. Her name was Khemporn. He returned with 150,000 Baht and she with 80,000. Each had 2 children by their former marriages, and they made two more. In 2009 they decided to return to Finland, and took a loan with the BAAC using Sangworn’s elder sister as a guarantor. 2009 was an all-around fiasco for most participants in the blueberry industry. Together Sangworn and Khemporn lost about 110,000 Baht (26,700 SEK). Still paying their 2009 berry-picking debt, in 2010 they borrowed another 170,000 Baht from the BAAC using another of Sangworn’s sisters as a guarantor and returned to Sweden. But, Sangworn has been unable to escape the curse that bedevils Thailand’s small farmers. After picking hard for 5 berry seasons, 2 profitable and 3 not, after picking nearly 17 tons of wild berries, he had accumulated a berry-picking debt of 250,000 Baht. “We arrived on 30 July, but the company made us wait more than a week before letting us go out to pick berries.” “This was a horrible year. We were starving. We picked mushrooms and cooked in the forest, and we cooked the entrails of deer that hunters left behind.” “During the first month we finished all 30 of the instant noodle packs we had brought with us from home. They said we would be well fed. I felt pity for those who did not bring food from Thailand. All of us lost weight.” For twenty years, since Khemporn was 14 or 15, she relied on the money she was paid by the Forestry Department for gathering seeds from the forest during the five months between November to March. After her seed-collecting season, without land of her own, she would take all kinds of employment in the village . . planting and harvesting rice and other crops, but she never weakened to taking work in the industrial zones or to migrating to Bangkok. Sangworn comes from a large farming family and works 10 acres of his own land. He has never taken work as a migrant labourer except to go to Finland or Sweden to pick berries. Footnote: If people outside Thailand do not attempt to understand the causes and the features of the small farmer debt-cycle in Thailand, they cannot understand why these small farmers keep returning to punishment in Scandinavia. The berry season in the boreal north fits snug with the farming cycle in northern Thailand, between planting and harvest. The agents understand this and play on the old Thai adage that ‘After every five
years there will be two good years’, as in the North people say of the berry crop ‘Every fourth year will be a bad year’. With millions of potential recruits, recruiting agents become adept at playing with the desperate hopes of small farmers caught-up in the hopeless ‘cycle of poverty’: . . . “Surely this year will be your lucky year. Remember so-and-so who came back with 300 000 Baht in 2006.” Etc. The story of Sangworn and Khemporn, all of the stories touched above, are representative of thousands of berry-pickers. These stories can be easily gathered in any camp of pickers. The forest berry industry’s dependence on a perfectly clean, organic imago side-by-side with dependence on the exploitation of ‘bonded migrant labour’ which, for the majority of pickers, is no more than a form of slave labour, is obviously not tolerable for anybody Large numbers of people with interest in the real economics of sustainable development are interested to see if the Scandinavian forest-berry industry can extract itself from this clearly unsustainable and unethical situation. Whether possible or not, an even larger number of people are beginning to recognise that the Everyman’s Right and the future use of non-timber forest products are closer to their own interests than they had previously imagined they were.
Summary and conclusions Basing expansion of the Scandinavian forest-berry industry on the annual practice of transporting thousands of poor Asian farmers from their villages in the tropics, across the Himalayas and Urals, to pick berries in the sub-Arctic is both unethical and economically absurd. Furthermore, this back-and-forth transport of Southeast Asian workers to Scandinavian berry grounds, and the sending of them home, after they have picked millions of kilos of berries for the Nordic food industry, with next-to-nothing or less-than-nothing in their pockets, can easily be classified as a slave trade. Why do the authorities do nothing to prevent this blatant exploitation of poor people? -
Because, except for the under-dog picker, all parties are benefiting. Whatever the loss and pain inflicted on the pickers, the Swedish and Thai Government and their licensed middlemen all profit, and, providing the labour trafficking chain is maintained, Scandinavian industries are guaranteed their supply of millions of kilos of super-food for next to nothing at around 10 SEK / kg.
Annual remittances from Thailand’s long-standing policy of encouraging outward migration hover between 11 and 15 billion SEK. Not less than half this sum is absorbed back into the labour trafficking business itself. Less than half reaches the people who earned the money. The labour trafficking cartels of Southeast Asia, with their under-the-table back-up in Government, are more than happy to feed the EU with cheap manual labour, no less the Scandinavian forest berry industry.
In 2009, a poor berry season, the berry processing industry received enough berries to stay alive and well, but just the Swedish pickers accumulated, and went home with, a berrypicking debt of around 156 000 000 SEK.
Far too large a proportion of the financial risk in the Scandinavian forest-berry ‘business’, is carried by the berry-pickers - rural labourers who are trapped in cycles of debt and poverty.
In practice these people are being chained (bonded) to the labour trafficking agencies and thus also to the industries the trafficking agencies serve. -
At present, the Swedish Government collects about 11 000 SEK from each incoming, contracted berry-picker (tourist visa, work permit + income tax).
Besides paying expensive visas and income tax to Sweden, and all transport back-and-forth from their home in Thailand to their berry-picker camp in Sweden, these poor farmers are obliged to buy comprehensive travel insurance in Thailand.
What has Sweden to offer berry-pickers who are paying, in total, around 40 000 SEK for the privilege of travelling 16 000 km to pick 3 - 4 tons of wild berries in 8 weeks for the Swedish food industry? -
With regard to the Lomsjö Bär pickers, the Swedish Government should do nothing less than return, in first instance, the 47,000 Baht that it takes - still only a fraction of the compensation that should be paid for all the discomforts and enormous troubles and pain that Sweden is causing to these people.
The Lomsjö Bär Work Contract, approved by the Kommunal and signed by the Public Notary in Gävle, was designed with all possible loop-holes. In itself the minimum wage offered could only pay 30-40% of the working hours expected and demanded from the pickers. The contract completely ignored the question of payment of overtime, allowing the employer to NOT PAY 60-70% of the working hours that all parties know - especially the forest berry industry itself - are necessary to be able to make profit.
There is no pro-active mechanism to respond to the problems faced by over-worked, cheated migrant workers.
In May 2010 some unions expressed gratitude to the Thai pickers that staged the protests in 2009 for raising the issues of exploitation and bad management in the forest berry industry, but the approach of the unions and Swedish Government has continued to show a distinct lack of determination - to protect the rights of the pickers, and a remarkable lack of understanding regarding the consequences of developing a forest industry based on exploitation of trafficked labour.
The 25 Lomsjö Bär pickers that remained in Sweden after September 25 to struggle on behalf of all 156 members of their group, have no effective knowledge of Swedish or English. Obviously such groups need care, assistance and protection. During the whole 2month period of their protest no senior representative or lawyer from the Kommunal (which approved their work contract) has been able to find time to visit the picker’s camp. In Åsele the pickers have shown real courage in attempting to stand-up for their rights against the insensitive, clinical, one-sided decision of the Lomsjö Bär bankruptcy lawyers.
Why are Swedish unions not leading the protest to strengthen the picker’s ability to negotiate? -
Ackordcentralen Norrland AB - the bankruptcy lawyers, were easily able to avoid taking any interest in the real plight of the pickers, easily able to ignore (as before) the whole chain of circumstances that leads repeatedly to domestic tragedy for thousands of pickers upon their return to Southeast Asia – tragedies cooked on Swedish soil. The state of affairs remains completely unacceptable.
The Swedish state and the Kommunal have still to demonstrate that they have any real concern for the stresses that their forest-berry fiascos are inflicting on thousands of innocent people.
It is now extremely important that the senior officers of the LO, Kommunal and Swedish consumer movement revise their approach and start applying far more serious attention to the causes underlying the plight of the berry-pickers – who have little or zero recourse to justice once they return to Thailand or Vietnam or China or Bangladesh . . and so on.
The determination of the 39 Lomsjö Bär pickers to fight for their rights is a signal that berrypickers have had enough of being tricked, trafficked and cheated in the absence of real concern for their well-being. If Sweden wants to defend itself against accusations of labour trafficking and exploitation of bonded migrant labour, the Government, unions and berry-processing companies need to develop far more pro-active response mechanisms - and leave to the trash-bin their charity approach - and ensure that the Rights-Based Approach is firmly in place – before implementing any ‘development through migrant labour’.
The current under-hand manner of labour recruiting must be understood. The Lomsjö Bär contract played an insignificant role in the recruiting process. What sways potential recruits is the false promises. Successful recruitment of out-bound migrant labour in Thailand is based on playing, successfully, a psychological game with the poor – with rural people that are trapped in the long-existing cycles of debt and poverty that are well maintained by neo-liberal capitalism and, thus also, by central government. In the absence of social welfare, all poor, rural people (in Thailand / most of the South) are forced to rely on private money-lenders (on the black economy and interest rates of 3 - 20% / month) - to juggling and gambling with short-term, monthly investments and chances of a fast turn-over . . “Never mind the contract. We promise that, if you work hard and pick more than just 40 kg / day, You will make a lot of money.” Operations like the Lomsjö Bär operation are immoral because they are based on a calculated acceptance that, at the end of the day, it will be the pickers that pay. All governmental schemes, under-the-table agreements and contracts that support such operations must be eliminated.
If Scandinavia wants to grow an industrialised forest-berry industry, it must shoulder the burden of risk – and stop engaging in the ignominy of avoiding real costs by seducing and exploiting defenceless migrant workers.
The two-fold task, now, of the Swedish and Finnish government is to liberate the Scandinavian forest-berry industry from all traces of labour trafficking, and take a fresh look at what sustainable use of non-timber forest resources really means (vis-à-vis Local Agenda 21), by placing local community analysis of what it means foremost - and by ensuring that the spirit and essence of the Everyman’s Right remains in place for all people for all time.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Many thanks to: Richard Thompson Coon for assistance with the writing and preparation of this report; Wuttikorn Premjai and the Thai pickers in Åsele for their full cooperation; the Kommunal and Annelie Grahn for providing basic needs and advice; Eva Hansson, Stockholm University, for her support, encouragement and many kinds of practical assistance; the Thai Labour Campaign and Migrant Workers Union Thailand for assisting the pickers upon their return to Thailand. Everybody appreciates and feels deeply grateful for the . . understanding demonstrated by the Mayor and authorities of Åsele kommun; support of the ICA Supermarket and Marcus Johansson, Åsele, solidarity demonstrated by the Thai Community in Åsele and Ple Restaurant and the friendship shown by Thomas Hasser, Ms Homklai and all who provided donations.
Thanks also to Swiss International Air Lines and Thai Airways International for not charging pickers for changing their flight tickets.
Example of Work Sheet from a berry picker in the Ă…sele camp showing working hours and estimated earnings according to working hours.
Date Leave camp Lunch 12/08/2010 04.30 12.00 12.20 13/08/2010 04.00 13.00 13.20 14/08/2010 04.00 12.00 12.30 15/08/2010 04.30 11.50 12.10 16/08/2010 04.30 12.30 13.00 17/08/2010 04.00 11.40 12.00 18/08/2010 04.50 12.30 13.00 19/08/2010 04.20 11.40 12.00 20/08/2010 04.10 11.30 11.50 21/08/2010 04.30 12.00 12.20 22/08/2010 04.30 13.00 13.20 23/08/2010 04.50 11.40 12.00 24/08/2010 04.00 12.00 12.30 25/08/2010 04.30 12.40 13.00 26/08/2010 04.30 11.40 12.00 27/08/2010 04.50 12.00 12.20 28/08/2010 04.20 11.40 12.00 29/08/2010 04.00 12.20 12.40 30/08/2010 04.30 11.40 12.00 31/08/2010 04.20 12.30 13.00 01/09/2010 05.00 11.40 12.00 02/09/2010 04.50 12.00 12.20 03/09/2010 05.20 11.40 12.00 04/09/2010 04.40 11.40 12.00 05/09/2010 05.00 12.00 12.20 06/09/2010 05.00 13.00 13.20 07/09/2010 04.40 11.40 12.00 08/09/2010 05.00 11.30 11.50 09/09/2010 04.50 11.50 12.20 10/09/2010 05.00 12.20 12.40 11/09/2010 05.00 11.40 12.00 12/09/2010 05.00 11.40 12.00 13/09/2010 04.50 12.00 12.30 14/09/2010 04.30 12.20 12.40 15/09/2010 05.00 12.00 12.20 16/09/2010 04.00 11.40 12.00 17/09/2010 05.00 11.50 12.10 18/09/2010 04.50 11.40 12.00 19/09/2010 05.00 12.00 12.30 20/09/2010 05.00 12.20 12.40 21/09/2010 05.00 11.40 12.00 22/09/2010 05.30 12.00 12.20 23/09/2010 05.30 12.00 12.20 24/09/2010 05.00 12.30 13.00 25/09/2010 05.00 12.20 12.40 45 days Wages at 93,00 SEK / hr / 8 hr workday (100%) 139,50 SEK / hr / weekday OT (150%) 186,00 SEK / hr / weekend OT (200%) Totals Pickers estimate of Total Wages earned
Back to camp
20.00 20.30 20.30 20.30 20.00 21.00 20.30 19.00 19.30 20.00 20.30 19.20 20.10 20.30 21.00 20.40 20.00 19.40 19.50 20.00 20.20 20.30 19.40 19.50 19.00 20.00 20.30 20.10 20.00 20.00 20.30 19.40 19.50 20.10 19.50 20.20 20.00 19.30 19.50 18.50 19.20 20.00 20.30 19.30 18.30
OT hrs 7.10
16.10 15.40 8 8 8 8 8
7.40 7.00 8.40 7.10 6.20 15.20 15.10
8 8 8 8 8 8
7.40 6.10 7.40 7.40 8.10 7.30 15.20 15.20
8 8 8 8 8
7.00 7.10 7.00 7.20 6.00 14.50 15.40
8 8 8 8 8
6.40 7.30 6.50 6.40 6.40 15.10 14.20
8 8 8 8 8
6.30 7.20 6.30 8.00 6.40 14.20 14.20
8 8 8 8 8
5.30 5.30 5.30 5.30 5.30
Hrs / day 15.10 16.10 15.40 15.40 15.00 16.40 15.10 14.20 15.20 15.10 15.40 14.10 15.40 15.40 16.10 15.30 15.20 15.20 15.00 15.10 15.00 15.20 14.00 14.50 15.40 14.40 15.30 14.50 14.40 14.40 15.10 14.20 14.30 15.20 14.30 16.00 14.40 14.20 14.20 13.30 13.30 13.30 13.30 13.30 13.10 664
35,879 98,602 SEK
Appendix 3. Example of the Decision of the LomsjĂś BĂ¤r AB bankruptcy lawyers (Ackordcentralen Norrland Ab) regarding wage settlement (for Premjai Wutikorn) before camp deductions and income tax.
A report on The on-going struggle of Thai berry pickers in Sweden