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Forced Labour in Sweden: The case of migrant berry pickers


This project is part of a comparative international study commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, UK, and led by the Working Lives Research Institute of London Metropolitan University. It involves researchers in a number of European countries including UK, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Latvia, Poland, Spain and Sweden. The project examines in each, the forms and extent of forced labour, the legislative and policy contexts, and opportunities for those subject to forced labour to seek redress through the civil or criminal law, local authorities or government agencies, NGOs, trade unions or other civil society actors. Case studies are illustrated with examples of good or innovative practice in securing redress.


Decent work agenda, Migrant rights , Regulation/deregulation, berry pickers, forced labour


Sweden is a country which prides itself on its adherence to human rights and labour rights. It is signatory to major international conventions of the ILO and other international bodies which seek to promote the furtherance of decent work. Sweden has an impressive record not only in defending human rights internationally, but also with respect to strict anti-trafficking laws, and with respect to laws on prostitution within Sweden. The issue of forced labour per se as against and separate from the broader question of human trafficking has received little attention either in legislative or policy discourses, at least until recently. Yet evidence is emerging of a new momentum whereby the most vulnerable migrant workers are being pushed not only from the formal into the informal sector, but also farther along the continuum towards the extremes of forced labour. The case study being researched here is of what is essentially forced labour in low-paid seasonal work, performed by migrant labour recruited from outside Sweden, mainly from outside the European Union, to gather the annual wild berry harvest. These workers are part of a transnational and circular migration barely noticed, at least until recently, when their plight received widespread attention due to problems arising from their terms and conditions of employment and the non-payment of wages. As a result of previous problems, the political and policy context is a rapidly evolving one in which the regulatory process for seasonal migrant employment is also undergoing change, although the outcomes of this have still to be assessed


C. Woolfson, P. Herzfeld Olsson and C. Thörnqvist, (2012) Forced Labour and Migrant Berry Pickers in Sweden. International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, 28, 2: 147-176.

Other Academic Output

Forced labour in Sweden: The case of migrant berry pickers, 2nd International Conference on Vulnerable Workers and Precarious Work in a Changing World, Middlesex University Business School, 10-11 September 2012.

Migrant workers rights: the case of berry pickers in Sweden, Labour Rights as Human Rights? Migration, labour market restructuring and the role of civil society in global governance, UNESCO-MOST Conference 2012, Norrköping, May 30-June 1, 2012. (with Petra Herzfeld Olsson).

Forced Labour in Sweden? The Case of Migrant Berry Pickers, Report to the Council of Baltic Sea States Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings: Forced Labour Exploitation and Counter Trafficking in the Baltic Sea Region, (with Christer Thörnqvist and Petra Herzfeld Olsson) July 2011. http://www.cbss.org/Civil-Security-and-the-Human-Dimension/de

Report on Forced Labour in Sweden, to Joseph Rowntree Trust; project on Responses to Forced Labour in the EU, London Metropolitan University, Working Lives Research Institute (with Christer Thornqvist) May 2011.

2011 - 2011


Joseph Rowntree Foundation

REMESO Project Leader

Charles Woolfson, Professor Emeritus

Participants not from REMESO

  • Associate Professor Christer Thörnqvist, REMESO Associated Researcher
  • Dr Petra Herzfeld Olsson, University of Uppsala, Sweden

Contact for project


Last updated: 2014-12-10

Page responsible: erik.berggren@liu.se
Last updated: 2017-03-24