Exploited Thai workers: the dark side of berry harvesting in Europe

Photo courtesy of The Nation

Over the past 18 years, more than 110,000 Thai workers have made the arduous journey to Europelured by the promise of lucrative salary in berry fieldsbut behind the allure lies a sinister reality exploitation, debt slavery, and broken dreams.

From the rural centers of northeastern Thailand, hopeful farmers borrowed staggering sums from banks and illegal moneylenders to finance their journey to the Nordic countries. What awaited them was not the prosperity they imagined, but a relentless cycle of debt and hardship.

Labor activist Junya Yimprasert has revealed the shocking truth: over a decade and a half, a staggering 10 billion baht was siphoned from impoverished Thai workers to enrich the forest fruit industry in Sweden and Finland, a loss swept under the carpet in international trade.

Berry companies, adept at preying on vulnerable populations, targeted workers from China and Vietnam in 2019, only to face revolt and swift repatriation due to poor working conditions. Threats of blacklisting and visa manipulation kept Thai workers quiet, trapping them in a vicious cycle of debt and exploitation.

Promised substantial income, the workers found themselves entangled in a web of fraud. The middlemen, luring them with visions of wealth, refused the exorbitant costs, leaving many in greater debt than before. With assets at the border and families separated, justice remains elusive for the likes of Praisanti Jumangwa, who are still awaiting compensation a decade later, The Nation reported.

Their daily work, from dawn to midnight, brought poor results. Denied fair wages, deprived of basic comforts and forced to navigate treacherous forests, Thai workers have lived a nightmare far from home. Even meal times offered no respite, with exorbitant fees for meager survival in cramped quarters.

The once promising venture turned into a nightmare as old, dilapidated vehicles stranded workers in remote locations and their dreams of prosperity shattered against the harsh reality of exploitation. Praisanti’s plea for government intervention rings loud and clear, appealing for worker protection and an end to the cycle of exploitation.

Thai berry pickers in Europe — an example of the poor getting poorer

Photo courtesy of The Nation

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