A food distributor that hires asylum seekers, pays them under the table, to change the sell-by dates of their old products

by , under Enrique Tessieri and Wael Che

An Espoo-Helsinki-based ethnic-food distributor,* which allegedly hires asylum seekers and pays them near-starvation salaries under the table, uses such victims to repackage and change the sell-by dates of their food products. Some of these products are allegedly five years old and their sell-by dates have changed twice, according to an asylum seeker, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

While changing the sell-by dates is illegal and could put consumers at risk, should we be surprised that employers without scruples are taking advantage of asylum seekers and migrants? Some of this type of exploitation is not only by Finns but by migrants as well.

One such case that Migrant Tales reported on in 2017 was a Porvoo-based cleaning company called A-T Puhdistus.

Despite legal action taken against the company, nothing has happened, according to Jihad, a former employee who filed charges to the police against the company. Some of the ways that A-T Puhdistus allegedly exploited its employees was by having them pay for their coffee and lunch breaks.

Foreigners are not the only ones who are taking advantage of needy and desperate migrants.  In 2013, we learned about Finnish companies that used vulnerable groups like berry pickers from Thailand. A Helsingin Sanomat article revealed that such berry pickers made 2.4 euros an hour, well below the minimum 7 euros an hour payment considered below-poverty-line wages.

Migrant Tales has published some recent cases of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who worked off the books. The first time I learned about such abuse was in the early 1980s from a Mexican cook who was brought from his home country to work for a Helsinki restaurant called Mexicana. He worked long hours, complained about the working conditions, and slept at the restaurant.

The interesting question to ask in light of this ever-growing problem is why aren’t the unions, politicians, and policymakers speaking out against employers who abuse migrants?

Below are three recent cases reported by us.

Case #1: Invoves an Iraqi who worked full-time six days a week eight hours a day for 500 euros a month and a promise from the employer that he would be hired as a staffer, which would help him get a residence permit. He quit after a few months when it became clear that the employer was lying to him.

Case #2: Another Iraqi asylum seeker worked at a bakery run by Iraqis. The person worked 12 hours a day five days a week and got paid 1,000 euros a month. In order to not raise any suspicion by the authorities like the tax office, the employer reported that the asylum seeker worked 30 hours a week when in fact the correct numer of hours was 240. His hourly wage was 4.16 euros or 49.92 euros a day. Of the former employees 1,000-euro monthly salary, 250 euros went for paying rent for an apartment.

Case #3: Another asylum seeker from Iraq worked for the same company as the first case above but worked there for a year and three months. His payment was 500 euros a month for three months with the promise that they would offer him a permanent job and help him get a residence permit. For about a yaer, he worked at the company’s warehouse in Helsinki where his working hours were erratic and payment varied from 200 to 400 euros a month. When he worked, working hours could be as long as 12 hours. His employer offered him food products as compensation.

Of all the cases that Migrant Tales has learned of, the latter one is the most concerning because it involves the repackaging of rice, flour, and other products with fake expiration dates (see pictures below). Some of these products are allegedly five years old, and their sell-by dates changed two times, according to the source.


“Hello, my name is BLANK, I used to work for an Espoo-Helsinki-based foods company called BLANK for a year and three months in weighing or distributing vegetables and foodstuff around Finland. I also used to do work like changing the sell-by dates of food products like wheat, rice, and many others. [The owners of the company] BLANK and BLANK used to threaten me that if I didn’t change the sell-by dates, they would tell the police. At the time I had two rejections for asylum and a deportation decision. [One of the owners] BLANK used to distribute the goods to Asian shops, Asian, Arab and Indian. The sell-by dates of the goods were forged; the company changed expired foodstuffs from 2017 to 2018.”

Changing the sell-by date is easy. In the extreme left picture, it reads that the whole flour (chakki atta) in the bag was packaged on 22 Jan. 17 and should be sold by 21 Oct 17. With some nail remover and a cloth (second picture) wipe the old dates off the package. Use a stamp with new dates and, presto, the product has a fake sell-by date. How much profit does this company make on these products?

The name of the company that changes the sell-by dates distributes such products to ethnic stores in Helsinki and Greater Helsinki, Lahti, Korso, Mikkeli, and Tampere.

“There is one Indian who works near Helsinki and buys powdered milk from India and other countries, repackages it as Finnish powdered milk and with fake sell-by dates,” the former employee said. “The owners buy over a ton of rice from India a year before it passes the sell-by date. The rice is repackaged with new sell-by dates.”


 

The warehouse where old products are repackaged with new sell-by dates. On the right, bags with 2kg bags of whole wheat flour (chakki atta). What products are past sell-by dates? According to the asylum seeker that worked there, all are past sell-by dates.

The source that gave me insight into the alleged dealings of the company, left the country and asked not to publish the story until May 15, when the former worker left Finland.

The owners of the company, allegedly threatened the asylum seeker. They tol him that if he didn’t change the sell-by dates, they would tell the police. At the time, the asylum seeker had two rejections for asylum and a deportation decision hanging over his head.

The asylum seeker said that one of the owners allegedly calls him daily and is cross with him because he left the country without his permission. He said that they have friends all over Europe and that anything can happen to him.

Whose fault?

Many desperate asylum seekers from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan are desperately seeking employment. If they get full-time work, it may mean getting a residence permit and avoiding being deported from Finland.

Even if the owners of the company promise to hire an asylum seeker, it is not sure that the person will get a residence permit due to the needs test, which requires the job to be offered first to EU citizens. If an asylum seeker is lucky to get a job in Finland and passes the needs test, he will have to work full-time (37.5 hours a week) and get paid decent wages to get a residence permit.

We all know that the present government of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has tightened immigration policy and created a hostile environment for asylum seekers. Before 2015, when about 32,000 came to Finland, the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) granted 70% of all asylum requests, but that has now changed to 70% rejections.

Amnesty International’s latest 2016/2017 report highlighted in the case of Finland how the present government had undermined the human rights of asylum seekers. Some of the worrying points are the restriction of legal representation, deadlines for appeals that were reduced from 30 to 21 days in the first instance, and to 14 days when appealing to the supreme administrative court.

Family reunification is another area that has faced tightening of immigration policy. Moreover, Finland continues to detain families with children in immigration removal centers as we have reported in the past.


This picture is of a girl locked up with seven of her brothers and sisters at the Joutseno immigration removal center. Read the full story here. The family was released in 2017 from detention and all its members have a temporary residence permit in Finland.

* While we haven’t published the real name of the company, the Regional State Administrative Agencies (AVI), health authorities and the police have the company’s name. We will update this story as it evolves. 

 

 

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