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Dutch strawberry grower sentenced for 'modern slavery'

The advocate-general of the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) has demanded a twelve month prison term with a four-month suspended sentence for a now 53 year-old strawberry grower.

In the view of the OM, the grower has been guilty of (labor) exploitation of a number of foreign workers that worked for his strawberry farm, in the period from mid 2005 to mid 2010. Legally, this comes down to human trafficking, is the vision of the OM. The accused is also suspected of fraud within the meaning of black money remunerations and benefits.

The foreign employees had to perform physically demanding seasonal work without reasonable compensation. They worked six days a week, for twelve to thirteen hours a day or more and were paid € 5 per hour when they met the daily standard. If there was only one rotten strawberry in a casket, the casket did not count in the daily standard that had to be met. Because of the long working days there was little time for relaxation. In case of illness no payment was made. Housing and sanitary facilities were poorly organized. The workers slept in a canteen or in tents. Also fines were charged if for example cleaning had not been done properly. The personal identity documents were held by the farmer and the employees had to sign papers without knowing exactly what it was they signed for because they did not speak the language.

The advocate general stated that in his view this constitutes "modern slavery", wrapped in a "nice jacket" because the accused had "the best intentions for his people" as he stated. The exploitation is combined with an "equally sophisticated and well thought-out way of fraud, so labor costs could be kept as low as possible and taxes could be minimized."

The court sentenced the accused to a suspended prison sentence of six months and 240 hours of community service. The OM appealed. The appeal of the advocate-general is directed against the consideration of the court that the accused is not guilty of activities that were directed to exploitation and that the offenses are of a different order than the way in which the concept of human trafficking is prevalent in society. The appeal also addresses the mild sentencing by the court.

The advocate general is of the opinion that it really concerns "clear exploitation" and that therefore, given the severity and scope of the offenses, a higher sentence definitely is justifiable. "The evidence shows clearly that a group of very vulnerable people were exploited and this exploitation made a lot of money for the accused. These were no incidents, it was standard working procedure for the accused. The accused showed little of a genuine and sincere understanding of the wrong of his actions. The actions of the accused were at all times directed at financial gain and the welfare of his workers always came last. His will was law and persons who disagreed or did not participate were punished or fired."

In connection with the timing, the advocate general arrives at a slightly lower sentencing than the previous demanded sentence of the prosecutor of fifteen months, including five months suspended sentence.

Publication date: 3/10/2017



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