Thai berry pickers demand justice and accountability in human trafficking cases

Thai berry pickers in Sweden and Finland have gathered in front of embassies, international organisations, and Thai government agencies to submit a petition, calling on relevant authorities to address human trafficking cases.

On Wednesday, dozens of Thai berry pickers, mostly from the northeastern provinces, rallied at the Swedish Embassy, the Finnish Embassy, the European Union Delegation office, the United Nations, and Government House, where they stayed overnight.

During the gathering, berry pickers shared their personal experiences and spoke about the difficult conditions they faced while picking berries and the challenges they encountered after being forced into debt by berry companies. Some held banners, showing the names of the berry companies that exploited them, while others held banners that exposed the human trafficking process involving Thai agencies that recruited and sent them to countries overseas.

One berry picker revealed that apart from Thai agencies, local officials and Thai lawyers were also complicit in the exploitation. Many of those involved still hold office, and no legal action has been taken against them.

(Photo from Network of Thai Berry Pickers in Sweden and Finland)

Thai berry pickers’ demands include that:

(1) An immediate stop to the human-trafficking of Thai berry pickers until trafficked workers are compensated and a negotiated framework to fully protect the labour rights of Thai berry pickers is in place in full accord with labour law.

(2) Finland and Sweden must ensure expeditiously that sufficient resources are allocated to the proper investigation and prosecution of all parties involved in human-trafficking crimes.

(3) legal and financial assistance must be provided to Thai berry pickers whose cases are under official investigation. 

(4) a new system be initiated using a government-to-government framework, with workers participating in negotiations and employers committing to fair contracts and taking responsibility for workers’ overall well-being, costs of travel and expenses.

On the last point, pickers insist that the berry industries of both countries be blacklisted by the EU until the investigation is concluded as berries from both countries are distributed across the EU.

Praisanti, a berry picker from Chaiyaphum Province, told Prachatai that he has been fighting for justice for over ten years and has never been compensated. He said that he has had to invest his own time and money to come to Bangkok to file petitions with relevant agencies.

On Thursday, the berry pickers are slated go to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Special Investigation.

Since 2006, Finland and Sweden have turned to Thai labour recruitment agencies to hire Thai workers to pick berries for them. Each year, thousands of Thai farmers are employed by approximately 13 companies in these countries. Many returned home empty-handed.  Some are burdened with debts.  Despite fighting for years, many have yet to obtain justice.

Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: [email protected], please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”