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Grapes of Wrath? Global labour mobility in the wild berry industry affecting rural development in Sweden and Thailand

Research project How is the seasonal mobility of berry pickers affecting the social and economic sustainability of rural areas in Sweden and Thailand? This is the main question under study in this project, referring back to the increasing global labour mobility that occurs within contemporary agricultural production. This project investigates the interconnectedness of rural areas in sending and receiving areas, the perpetuation of the migration process and the costs and earnings of low-wage workers.

Each summer we are told about the exploitation of Thai wild berry pickers in the Swedish berry industry. They are low-wage, seasonal workers, who travel back to their homeland each year only to return the following season. This project highlights that rural areas and their labour markets are part of globalization, and as such interlinked to other parts of the world. Thai berry pickers entering Sweden is a good example of this. They represent global labour mobility within the berry industry, containing simultaneous, transnational effects on Swedish and Thai rural areas. The project investigates in what way the process is perpetuated across time, and how households and ruralities are affected of berry picking activities.

Head of project

Charlotta Hedberg
Associate professor
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period:

2015-08-01 2020-10-31

Funding

 1,1 million SEK per year, FORMAS Swedish research council for sustainable development, Charlotta Hedberg

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences

Research area

Human geography

Project description

A study of transnational, low-wage workers

This project investigates how transnational, low-wage seasonal workers within the berry industry are repeatedly returning to Sweden. It departs from a view of rural areas and their labour markets as parts of globalization, where rural labour markets are spanning the globe. This affects localities simultaneously and in multi-sited ways. Thai berry pickers working in Sweden is a good example of this. They represent global labour mobility within the berry industry, having simultaneous effects on Thai and Swedish countrysides.

 

Simultaneous effects in Thailand and Sweden

The project investigates the mobility of Thai berry pickers to Sweden, and the regional effects this has on countrysides in Sweden and Thailand. This is done, first, by analyzing the migration process and how it is perpetuated across time. Secondly, it analyses how social and economic sustainability is affected, in Thailand, by investigating the effects of berry picking on household incomes and gender roles. Berry picking has large effects on rural households, which contains both possibilities and risks. Household earnings from picking berries in Sweden are often relatively low, but what they earn is often invested in education and local farming. In Sweden, it is investigated how temporary labour is seen as a prerequisite for the berry business. Berry picking are affecting rural areas, since a large share of the workers in areal industries consist of low-waged, seasonal workers from abroad.

 

Fieldwork in Sweden and Thailand

The project is a continuation of earlier research projects within the same area. The main method consists of “multi-sited ethnography”: fieldwork based on observations and interviews with local inhabitants in Sweden and Thailand. The project gives weight to communication of results with policy makers and the public society.

Links to more reading

Policy report for the Migration Studies Delegation (DELMI) about costs and earnings in the berry industry

Policy report for the Migration Studies Delegation (DELMI) about labour migration (Ch. 4)

HEUNI report about forced labour (p. 171-237) 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (2016) ”Migration skapar en dynamisk landsbygd” (p. 13-19) 

Related research project, Stockholm University

 

Publications related to project

2019
Translocal mobility systems: social inequalities and flows in the wild berry industry Geoforum, Oxford: Elsevier 2019, Vol. 99 : 102-110 Carmo, Renato M.; Hedberg, Charlotta

2018
Emerging topologies of transnational employment: 'Posting' Thai workers in Sweden’s wild berry industry beyond regulatory reach Geoforum, Elsevier 2018, Vol. 89 : 1-10 Axelsson, Linn; Hedberg, Charlotta

2016 
'Doing gender' in the wild berry industry: transforming the role of Thai women in rural Sweden 1980–2012 The European Journal of Women's Studies, Sage Publications 2016, Vol. 23, (2) : 169-184 Hedberg, Charlotta

2013
‘Grapes of wrath’?: Power spatialities and aspects of labour in the wild berry global commodity chain Competition & change, Vol. 17, (1) : 57-74 Hedberg, Charlotta