SCA, Holmen field criticism over sub-contractor that allegedly lured African migrant workers to Sweden for tree planting, exploited them; forest companies investigating, working with forestry union to thwart unscrupulous contractors

Audrey Dixon

Audrey Dixon

Jan 24, 2013 – Industry Intelligence Inc.

LOS ANGELES , January 24, 2013 () – Swedish forestry companies Svenska Cellulose Aktiebolaget (SCA) and Holmen AB have become embroiled in a human trafficking scandal involving a sub-contractor that allegedly lured African migrant workers to Sweden for well-paid forestry work, then paid them much less than promised and threatened them when they complained.

The two Swedish forest products companies have separately made statements on the issue, which was reported in The Local on Jan. 23, prior to a Swedish TV investigative program that was broadcast the same day.

The workers, from Cameroon, were also allegedly forced to pay hefty fees to the contractors before being allowed to start work, leaving them in debt and afraid to return home.

According to the investigative TV program aired by Svergies Television (SVT) on Wednesday, many of the workers have been left to fare for themselves months after the end of the planting season, effectively stranded in Sweden as undocumented immigrants, with no access to money, housing or work.

SVT’s news program "Uppdrag Granskning" quoted Tommy Andersson of GS, the Swedish union of forestry, wood and graphical workers, calling it a case of "human trafficking, plain and simple."

Ulf Larsson, President of SCA Forest Products, said in a statement: “Unscrupulous exploitation of workers and unethical treatment of people is something that we strongly repudiate. Everyone who works for SCA, or for subcontractors of SCA, shall have the benefit of legal and contractual working conditions and be paid in accordance
with existing agreements. We pay our contractors with the understanding that their employees, in turn, will be paid in accordance with existing agreements. If we learn that a contractor is in violation of our agreements, then we will terminate their services.”

SCA Forest has been working together with GS to ensure forestry contractors it hires meet all contractual requirements, and spot inspections are conducted, the statement noted.

Larsson said: “We have now initiated an internal investigation surrounding the contractor in question.”

SCA’s statement quoted Tommy Andersson of GS saying the forestry union had “a very good working relationship with SCA” and had “now begun an intensification of this cooperation, where we together with SCA are delegating resources to ensure better control over these contracting firms.”

Holmen, in an e-mailed statement to Industry Intelligence Inc., named the contractor involved as Skogsnicke AB, which Holmen contracted to plant trees in the northern part of Sweden.

Holmen’s statement confirmed that “Uppdrag Granskning” had shown examples of undesirable conditions for the employees Skogsnicke AB hired from Cameroon.

“Everyone working for Holmen directly or indirectly have the right to contractual salaries, good working environment and good conditions in all other respects,” the statement said.

“Skogsnicke AB has not fulfilled Holmen´s requirements according to the contract agreed upon. Skogsnicke AB will not be permitted to work for Holmen again. We will not allow this to happen again on the forestland of Holmen and contraction routines and supplier assessments must be tightened up. The work with improvements has begun.”

Holmen added that negotiations had begun today (Jan. 24) between the union GS and the employers’ confederation SLA. “Holmen will follow the outcomes and thereafter decide if further actions should be taken to make sure the employees will receive the payment that they have the rights to,” the statement added.

The primary sources of this article are a news item in The Local, Stockholm, on Jan. 23, 2013, citing the Svergies Television program
“Uppdrag Granskning” and statements issued by SCA and Holmen on Jan. 24.

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