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Exploitation of foreign workers is fairly common not only in the cleaning, but also in the agricultural and restaurant sectors of Finland. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)

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IT IS HARDLY a surprise that cleaning service providers have been able to exploit their employees for extended periods of time in Finland, views Minna Immonen, a detective chief inspector at Eastern Finland Police Department.

“There are always more people to oppress. If someone starts demanding their rights, there’s always someone else ready to take their place,” she described to Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday.

“This is a massive money-spinner for these companies and, because we’re unable to address exploitation effectively enough, that kind of activity is relatively risk-free for them.”

Immonen has pretty much seen it all in terms of labour exploitation.

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She has studied human trafficking and other forms of labour exploitation for over 10 years and, around 10 years ago, was in charge of pre-trial investigations into cleaning service providers in Espoo. The investigations revealed the same kind of problems that were described in an in-depth story published on Sunday by Helsingin Sanomat. Police, however, had a completely different opinion about the seriousness of the situation than the municipality.

Immonen said police are currently better equipped to tackle the phenomenon, but there is still a need to enhance understanding of the tools needed to combat human trafficking and labour exploitation – especially as the perpetrators are becoming increasingly creative and ruthless.

“Subjugating and threatening employees, for instance trying to influence their family members in their country of origin through social media, has reached completely new heights in 10 years,” she told.

“We at the police should be even better aware of this. Finland should be a pioneer in weeding out this phenomenon.”

A key for eradicating labour exploitation is developing collaboration between various authorities, according to Immonen. Law enforcement, supervisory, tax and work protection authorities should share tips and observations with one another more regularly, carry out joint inspections and engage in continuing co-operation.

Another key factor is prevention, she added.

“We can’t simply be putting out fires, but we have to be able to carry out effective advance monitoring in risky situations.”

The exploitation of foreign labour is relatively prevalent in a number of industries, ranging from cleaning to restaurant and agriculture, in Finland. “There’s no way we’re currently able to combat this kind of criminal activity effectively enough,” conceded Immonen.

The phenomenon is a problem not only for the victims, but also for companies that want to play by the rules.

“Companies that really work hard to make it are suffering because of this. Criminal companies are doing well by cheating everyone starting from their workers and neglecting their statutory payments,” lamented Immonen. “If we don’t eradicate this and send the message that the police considers this a priority, we’re giving way to exploitation, the grey economy and all sorts of ruthless operators. This would have very far-reaching consequences.”

“This is also about what kind of an image we want to portray of the society. How does Finland treat the people who come here from elsewhere?”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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