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Appeal court reduces human trafficking sentence for berry picking firm boss

The court reduced the Finnish defendant's original 20-month suspended sentence by four months. 

Marjanpoimijoita majoitustilassaan.
The berry pickers' base camp in Central Finland (file photo from 2017). Image: Sisä-Suomen poliisi

The Vaasa Court of Appeal has partially reduced the suspended sentence of the head of a berry picking firm who was found guilty of human trafficking.

The court reduced the defendant's original 20-month suspended sentence by four months.

At the beginning of 2018, the man was convicted of trafficking 26 people from Thailand to pick berries in Finnish forests. He was also found guilty of fraud and violations of waste management laws. The man recruited the berry pickers, bringing them to Finland from Thailand, in the summer of 2016.

In the district court case, the prosecutor said the plaintiffs were compelled to work 15-hour days and much of their earnings went to pay off debts accrued from their journey to Finland.

On Wednesday the appeal court upheld an earlier district court decision to ban the defendant from running a business for three years. The appeal court also upheld the district court's order that the man pay a total of 200,000 euros in damages to the 26 plaintiffs in the case.

1 trafficking charge rather than 26

The appeal court ruling was slightly different from the lower court's, in that the court of appeal found the defendant guilty of one human trafficking charge against 26 individuals, while the district court convicted the man on 26 separate human trafficking charges.

The appeal court found that the berry pickers had been denied pay due to debts they owed to the firm for travel expenses. The court also found that the inexperienced berry pickers had not received adequate guidance them and therefore did not collect enough berries, which resulted in lower wages.

The court ruled that the camp at which the berry pickers were housed was dangerous due to violations of fire, safety and health regulations and was not suitable for housing.

Story continues after photo.

Marjanpoimijoiden keittokatos.
Makeshift kitchens at the workers' camp (file photo from 2017). Image: Sisä-Suomen poliisi

The berry pickers slept in converted trailers and shipping containers that accommodated 18-20 male and female workers in the same spaces. The Thai workers were also entirely dependent on the company that employed them because the firm had seized their passports.

Story continues after photo.

Marjanpoimijoiden käymälät.
Shipping containers were converted to provide toilet facilities (file photo from 2017). Image: Sisä-Suomen poliisi

The court said the Thai nationals were also unable to return home because they did not have enough money for airfare and forced to continue picking berries while paying the firm for living and travel costs.

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