Exploited Thai workers: Debt, deception, and the dark side of berry picking in Europe

Photo courtesy of The Nation

In the past 18 years, over 110,000 Thai workers embarked on a gruelling journey to Europe, enticed by the promise of lucrative pay in berry fields, yet behind the allure lies a sinister reality of exploitation, debt bondage, and shattered dreams.

From the rural heartlands of Thailand’s northeast, hopeful farmers borrowed staggering sums from banks and illegal lenders to finance their passage to the Nordic countries. What awaited them was not the prosperity they envisioned but a relentless cycle of debt and hardship.

Labour activist Junya Yimprasert revealed a shocking truth: over a decade and a half, a staggering 10 billion baht has been drawn from impoverished Thai workers to enrich the forest berry industries of Sweden and Finland, a loss swept under the rug of international commerce.

The berry companies, adept at preying on vulnerable populations, shifted their focus to workers from China and Vietnam in 2019, only to face uproar and swift repatriation due to abysmal working conditions. Threats of blacklisting and visa manipulation kept Thai workers silent, trapping them in a vicious cycle of debt and exploitation.

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Promised substantial earnings, workers found themselves ensnared in a web of deceit. Middlemen, enticing them with visions of wealth, deducted exorbitant expenses, leaving many in deeper debt than before. With assets on the line and families torn apart, justice remains elusive for those like Praisanti Jumangwa, still awaiting recompense a decade later, reported The Nation.

Their daily toil, from dawn till midnight, yielded meagre returns. Denied fair wages, deprived of basic comforts, and forced to navigate treacherous forests, Thai workers endured a nightmare far from home. Even mealtimes offered no respite, with exorbitant charges for meagre sustenance in cramped quarters.

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

Thai berry pickers in Europe — a case of the poor getting poorer

Photo courtesy of The Nation

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Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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