Swedish forestry firms in migrant labour scandal

Swedish forestry companies have come under fire over accusations they use migrant workers from Africa to plant trees for low pay, with many ending up broke and stranded in Sweden.

Swedish forestry firms in migrant labour scandal

“We’re talking about human trafficking, plain and simple,” Tommy Andersson of GS, the Swedish union of forestry, wood and graphical workers, told Svergies Television (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag granskning.

According to a programme to be broadcast on Wednesday night, Swedish forestry giants SCA and Holmen hire agents to recruit migrant workers from Cameroon, luring them to Sweden with false promises of good pay.

The practice has been going on for the past two years and involves sending documents to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) indicating the workers will earn 18,500 kronor ($2,825) per month and which have been approved by the union.

But the promised wages appear only to exist on paper, according to Uppdrag granskning.

When the Cameroonian workers arrive in the forests of northern Sweden, they are forced to carry out piece work for much lower pay.

They were also forced to pay hefty fees to the agents before being allowed to start working in the first place.

When some of the workers complained, the agent threatened to burn down their homes back in Cameroon, according to the SVT report.

Six months after the end of the planting season, many of the Cameroonian workers remain in Sweden as undocumented immigrants.

They lack housing, money, and work and are afraid to return home because they lack money to pay off the debts incurred to make the journey to Sweden.

The Swedish forestry firms told Uppdrag granskning they were also “duped” by the recruiting agents, but claim they have no obligation to help the workers with their predicament.

“We have a contract agreement with businesslike provisions with the agent. We don’t have any agreement which involves any responsibility for their staff,” Jan Sandström, regional manager with Holmen AB, told SVT.

TT/The Local/dl

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Stable night for Sweden wildfires after rainfall

Areas affected by major wildfires were stable overnight, due in part to rainfall on Saturday.

Stable night for Sweden wildfires after rainfall
Fire hoses running alongside a forest road in Ljusdal. Photo: TT

Gävleborg, a county north of Stockholm which has seen particularly severe blazes, was continuing firefighting work without the use of support from aircraft, TT reports.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskaps, MSB) will now focus on the next stage of its work to extinguish fires after the night saw stabilisation of the situations in Jämtland and Dalarna as well as in Gävleborg, MSB’s deputy director Mikael Tofvesson said at a press conference on Sunday morning.

“We have received notification from Gävleborg that they do not need support from the air at this stage,” Tofvesson said.

Due high and increasing risk of wildfires in southern Europe, two French firefighting aircraft that have assisted with the Swedish efforts will now return home, the deputy director confirmed.

“The French aircraft will return home on Tuesday. Their last operational day will be on Monday,” he said.

Once fires are extinguished, responsibility for observation of the areas will be returned to landowners.

“We must also look at how we will manage the next phase. We are working on several levels to assess this issue and the related risks,” Tofvesson said.

County authorities in Västmanland, which suffered devastating forest fires in 2014, will meet with MSB to discuss its experiences with post-wildfire management, he added.

A blaze in Torslanda Municipality yesterday, however, showed that wildfires are still able to spread quickly given the right conditions. A bolt of lightning is thought to have set off the fire, which began spreading quickly in a new direction after a change in wind conditions.

In other parts of the country, as many as 27 wildfires were still active as of Sunday morning according to SOS Alarm, despite the much-needed rain that fell in some places on Saturday.

More rain is forecast on Sunday in some affected areas including Hälsingland, but for others, such as Älvedalen, the prognosis is more uncertain, meteorological agency SMHI said.

READ ALSO: Sweden wildfires spark criticism of forest industry