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Greenhouse entrepreneurs want authorities to help spot trafficking

Hothouse farmers in Ostrobothnia are demanding the state help them recruit uncoerced foreign labour.

Them Dinh Luu has worked in Finnish greenhouses for nine years. Image: Moa Mattfolk / Yle

Agricultural businesses say they want more recruitment help from the authorities following a case involving dozens of Vietnamese labourers suspected of being victims of extortion in a small town in western Finland.

Media reports emerged last month saying that Vietnamese labourers are suspected of being victims of extortion and possibly human trafficking in Närpes.

Hufvudstadsbladet reported that a Vietnamese broker is said to have charged compatriots 10,000 to 20,000 euros each to bring them to Finland to work at greenhouses, the paper said, citing "systematic and long-term import of Vietnamese labour".

Börje Ivars has been following the case. His own greenhouses in Närpes employ around 65 people, mostly from Vietnam. He told Yle that the trafficking suspicions in the town are casting a shadow over the entire sector.

Ivars said he would like the state to enforce safeguards to help employers recruit staff safely.

"Every now and then one of the employees will say they have a mother or cousin who would like to work here, and we're happy to see families united," Jennifer Ivars, Börje's daughter who now heads the company's HR, told Yle.

But she also noted that it's up to employers to do their homework when it comes to hiring.

"As an employer, you've got to take the responsibility and ask who the job candidate really is and try to build an understanding of the family relationship," she added.

Wages at Ivars' greenhouse start at around nine euros per hour, with monthly salaries at the company ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 euros.

Most of the workers at Ivars' greenhouses are Vietnamese like Them Dinh Luu, who after nine years with the company now oversees 22 other workers.

"Närpes has been good to me and my family. My kids are in school and I like working here," Them, who is looking to become a Finnish citizen, told Yle.

Them's siblings, nephew and other relatives also work for Börje Ivars. He said he knows not everyone migrating to Finland for work has had a similarly positive experience. He said bad situations could be avoided if newcomers to Närpes received more help and support, particularly in terms of housing.

HBL reported that in the extortion case, Vietnamese arrivals were housed in cramped, rudimentary and isolated facilities. Without information about Finnish laws, ability to speak Finnish or Swedish (the predominant local language), they have been unable to question their inhuman working conditions.

Them said he has urged his fellow Vietnamese coworkers to learn Finnish or Swedish.

Börje Ivars said around half of his employees have learned Swedish, with the company providing language lessons on-site.

Ivars told Yle that he hoped the ongoing police investigation would reach a conclusion soon and that those guilty would be brought to justice.

"It's important to us that we can continue recruiting skilled staff from abroad in the future, but it has to happen safely," he said.

Jennifer Ivars meanwhile said the recent worker exploitation case has left many entrepreneurs in the sector feeling insecure about hiring foreign workers.