Nepalese restaurants, favored by Finns, have a dark side. An investigation by Helsingin Sanomat reveals systematic exploitation of workers. The restaurants are run by a small, tightly knit group of owners.
Helsingin Sanomat julkaisi maaliskuussa selvityksen nepalilaisten ravintoloiden työoloista. Tämä juttu on englanninkielinen käännös. Alkuperäisen suomenkielisen jutun voit lukea tästä. Nepalinkielinen tiivistelmä löytyy tästä. यो लेखको संक्षिप्त संस्करण नेपालीमा भाषामा यहाँ पढ्न सक्नुहुन्छ।
In March Helsingin Sanomat published an investigation of working conditions in Nepalese restaurants. This is an English translation of the article. You can read the original Finnish version here. An abbreviated Nepalese translation of the article can be read here.
When Suman had been working for a few months, he got his first day off. That meant he only had to work for seven hours.
Typically the shift would begin in the morning around nine and end after the restaurant closed after ten o’clock in the evening.
Sometimes the workload went up to almost eighty hours a week. On weekends and holidays the toil could continue for 16 hours.
A long shift, the Nepalese say.
Suman and two other men worked as cooks in the popular Nepalese restaurant Mount Sherpa. It still serves customers in the centre of Kuopio, a stone’s throw from the central square.
Suman didn’t get any actual compensation. Every now and then small sums of money were transferred to his account. The contract wage was paid to his Nordea account, but the account was controlled by the owner. Suman didn’t see a penny of the payments.
For a year and a half Suman tolerated the exploitation. Then he did something remarkable.
He walked to the police station in Kuopio.
That was two and a half years ago. Last December the Pohjois-Savo District Court sentenced the owner of Mount Sherpa, Purna Adhikari, on three counts of aggravated tax fraud, two counts of accounting offence and three counts of human trafficking to conditional imprisonment for one year and eight months.
According to the court, the restaurant’s working conditions had gravely violated the Finnish law and the owner had taken advantage of the men’s vulnerable position.
The conviction was rare, but exploitation is much more common.
An investigation by Helsingin Sanomat reveals that many Nepalese restaurants, favored by Finns, have a dark side which has remained hidden from the public view until now.
The restaurants routinely have cooks working shifts which can extend up to 16 hours. Workers coming to Finland also have to pay for their job, and compensation for the work is often minimal.
Over the span of five months, HS interviewed nineteen Nepalese and one Indian, fifteen of which work or have worked in Nepalese restaurants. They have experiences from more than ten restaurants, over many years, from different parts of Finland.
The Nepalese don’t speak here with their real names, because they are afraid of losing their jobs and consequently their residence permits. Some are worried about their own as well as their family’s safety.
Three of the workers are in the Assistance system for victims of human trafficking, an official government body helping people who have been exploited.
The stories that the Nepalese tell are similar in many respects.
Similar events and practices show up time and again: cooks are made to work with enormous or at the very least illegal workloads, and the payment is nowhere near official working regulations.
One cook tells HS he worked every day for 14 hours, with no days off, after arriving to Finland. The job paid no extras or overtime, and after taxes he earned less than a thousand euros a month. About half of that sum went to the restaurant owner to pay off the cook’s debt.
“When I complained about the conditions, the owners threatened to send me back to Nepal”, the man tells HS.
Another cook says that for a year he worked 13 hours a day and was paid a few hundred euros a month. He lived in an apartment owned by the restaurant owner. His income was so small that he saved money by washing his hair with liquid used for dishes.
Almost all the workers say that they had to pay the restaurant owners to get a job in Finland. The sums range from around 5 000 euros to over 15 000 euros.
One Nepalese cook claims that he had to sell his assets in Nepal in order to be able to come to Finland. Many tell of borrowing money in their home country from their relatives, for example.
Some could not afford to pay, so they agreed to work in Finland for free.
The conditions are dire. Workers often sleep in crowded apartments with other cooks. One Nepalese man interviewd by HS shared a two-bedroom apartment with six other cooks.
Individual workers from different cities tell of the owner confiscating their passports. Many say that they must work even if they have become sick or have injured themselves.
Helsingin Sanomat has backed up the workers’ stories by examining police investigation material, court documents, bank statements, private messages, official documents and other items.
HS has also interviewed experts from, among others, the police, the Regional State Administrative Agency, the Assistance system for victims of human trafficking and Victim Support Finland (Riku), an NGO focused on helping victims of crime.
HS’s investigation covers over a dozen restaurants. Based on the cooks’ stories the problem is even larger. HS does not however have evidence of exploitation in all Nepalese restaurants.
The Nepalese workers themselves have wanted to speak of the abuse. They have brought the issue to HS in the hope that government officials would tackle the problem.
One Nepalese person interviewed for this article wonders how the exploitation has been able to continue for years.
Another, who had worked for years in the kitchen of a Nepalese restaurant, said that many cooks are still in a very difficult situation.
“We hope that the Finnish government will intervene. This is systematic criminal activity.”
There is an unusually large number of Nepalese restaurants in Finland.
Most likely the restaurant density is higher than in any other Western country. In the metropolitan area alone the restaurants number around fifty.
The first Nepalese restaurant in Finland was founded in 1993 in Kallio, a neighbourhood of the capital Helsinki.
It was called Himalaya. The founder was a man named Devi Sharma.
He arrived in Finland in the 1980’s together with Hemraj Sharma. Both were around thirty. The two hail from Nepal’s countryside, a poor region called Gulmi. In Finland they initially worked in the restaurant business and then decided to become entrepreneurs.
Their businesses were a success. Today they own numerous restaurants in the capitol region.
Devi Sharma and his wife Manju Sharma control the restaurants Himalaya, Lali Gurans, Gurkha and Yeti Nepal. Hemraj Sharma runs the Mount Everest restaurants.
Devi and Hemraj Sharma have both presented themselves in public as pioneers of the Nepalese restaurant boom in Finland.
They worked for some time in India, which is why the food in Finnish Nepalese restaurants represents in many respects the kitchen of the Punjabi region, situated on the border of India and Pakistan.
“At first Finns shied away from the spiciness of Nepalese food, but after a while they warmed up to it”, Hemraj Sharma recalled the early days of the restaurant boom in February (HS 11.2.).
The Nepalese people interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat see the two businessmen’s affairs in a darker light.
Those interviewed almost unanimously name Devi Sharma the central figure in a network of Nepalese restaurant owners.
One Nepalese person, who has observed the restaurant business for years, calls the network a “cartel”. Others speak plainly of “owners”. Hemraj Sharma is considered the second most influential businessman in the network.
Ram Aryal, the owner of the restaurant Satkar and the cousin of Hemraj Sharma, arrived in Finland after the two pioneers. Devi Sharma, Hemraj Sharma and Ram Aryal are all from the same region in Nepal.
One Nepalese cook says they are called “the three roots”, because they were the first to come to Finland.
Devi and Hemraj Sharma, and later others, have brought in relatives from Gulmi to work in their restaurants. Later on they have brought in relatives of relatives, and other Nepalese people.
Last year, in an interview of a Nepalese tv-channel, Devi Sharma boasted of having brought a total of 1 500 Nepalese workers to Finland. The figure is impossible to confirm, but indirectly Sharma has certainly brought in hundreds of Nepalese cooks to Finland over the years.
Many of his workers have later set up their own restaurants, for which more workers have been brought in from Nepal.
HS has information according to which the Helsinki police department suspects that Devi and Manju Sharma are guilty of human trafficking.
The investigation is related to the conditions of a person who worked in Devi Sharma’s restaurant and home. The investigation has been going on for around two years.
Devi Sharma confirms the investigation. Both Devi and Manju Sharma consider it baseless.
HS met Devi and Manju Sharma in Helsinki. In the interview Devi Sharma claims that the investigation got started after his former housemaid had been ”talking crap”.
“This is not true. I have worked here for a long time as an entrepreneur and brought in many workers. I am the number one Nepalese taxpayer in Finland. This is jealousy.”
HS’s investigation shows that the restaurant owners keep in contact and act in a very organized manner. A good example of this is what happens to workers if they tell police or other officials about their condition.
According to the Nepalese interviewed by HS, a cook who does this will find it very difficult to find work again in Nepalese or other South Asian restaurants.
One Nepalese person interviewed by HS, who has observed the restaurant field for years, says that the owners exchange information.
”If you speak to the police, you will become an outcast in the eyes of the cartel.”
According to Suman, it has become impossible for him to get a job in a Nepalese or South Asian restaurant.
“The owners act like a mafia. They are related and they assist each other in exploiting people.”
A lion’s share of the the big and well-known restaurants is owned by a group of roughly thirty Nepalese businessmen. The vast majority are from the same poor region of Gulmi. They are closely related and also have financial ties.
For example, Devi Sharma owns the restaurants Gurkha and Yeti Nepal with his inner circle. Hemraj Sharma’s brother owns the restaurant Mount Everest Nokka, and the deputy chair member of the company’s board is Ram Aryal.
Many of the restaurants in Helsinki are situated in central locations and the food is moderately priced especially at lunch time – a combination that is economically challenging.
Exploitation in the restaurants is a familiar phenomenon to the police as well.
Detective chief inspector Minna Immonen of the police department of Eastern Finland was in charge of investigating Suman’s case. She has investigated human trafficking cases for close to two decades.
According to Immonen, the restaurant owners can threaten workers and their families back in Nepal, sometimes in brutal ways.
One cook interviewed by HS was accepted into the Assistance system for victims of human trafficking. The decision states the following:
“According to your statements, your employer has directly hinted that it’s easy to kill a person in Nepal. The employer has told you that they have the means to pay someone 50 euros to stab a person in Nepal.”
According to Immonen, the restaurant owners are a tight knit community that coordinates or at least discusses together things such as the treatment of workers and what information to give to authorities.
Moreover, the owners confer about accepting new entrepreneurs and recruiting workers, Immonen says.
Some Nepalese workers claim that their employers have sent them to work for the owner of a different restaurant. One cook interviewed by HS was sent to a different city.
According to Immonen, the restaurant owners make recruiting trips to their home country.
With the help of social media, family relations and other networks, new recruits are constantly found. The owners make a deal with them on how much they have to pay to get a job in Finland.
Immonen says that for some people the owners paint a false image of what life in Finland will be like. The first year’s salary can be agreed to be less than one thousand euros a month, with a substantial raise in the second year.
Often, the promises turn out to be false.
“Others might be told that if you work for a few years as a kind of slave, you can set up your own restaurant and exploit others”, Immonen says.
The cartel-like activity of the restaurant owners has also been noticed at Victim Support Finland, the NGO helping victims of human trafficking and other crimes.
It has become generally apparent in cases of exploitation that the restaurant owners often have close ties.
“Our clients find it very difficult to become re-employed if they have filed in a claim about their employer”, says Pia Marttila, a senior advisor at Victim Support Finland specialized in human trafficking.
At the moment, Victim Support Finland has eleven Nepalese clients.
Devi and Manju Sharma say that if another owner needs advice, they will help. They deny that the owners coordinate the treatment of workers, working conditions, recruitment or other activity.
Devi Sharma says that the owners do talk among themselves about whether to hire a worker.
“It’s the same thing in Finland. A Finnish company will check if a person is trustworthy. When I worked at Elanto, the restaurant chiefs were calling each other that Devi wants to work here, can I trust him. This happens between the Nepalese restaurants, too.”
Sharma does not believe that claims of exploitation in the restaurants are true.
”If the owner doesn’t pay the worker, why does the worker go on for six years in the same place instead of quitting after a few months? Why doesn’t he go directly to the police?”
Devi Sharma says that he would not employ a worker that has told the police of being a victim of exploitation. According to Sharma, such claims would be fraudulent.
Hemraj Sharma and Ram Aryal also deny the coordinated activity of restaurant owners. Both say that they haven’t heard of owners blacklisting workers who have tried to improve their working conditions.
Hemraj Sharma and Ram Aryal say that they have at some point read about cases of exploitation in newspapers, but other than that the phenomenon isn’t familiar.
Devi Sharma, Hemraj Sharma and Ram Aryal say that their restaurants adhere to the law and collective bargaining agreements.
Suman managed to eventually land a job at a Finnish restaurant.
He’s afraid that one day the work will end. If that happens, he might have to return to Nepal.
This type of fear is most likely the biggest reason for the exploitation to remain hidden.
The cooks get a residence permit on the basis of having a job waiting in Finland. Becoming unemployed may mean that one has to leave the country.
If cooks complain about their working conditions, the owners threaten to fire them.
Only after acquiring a permanent residence permit is the employee free from this hook. This typically means a five year waiting period.
If workers bring their families to Finland, their position is more vulnerable, because keeping the family in Finland necessitates a certain level of income.
Some of the workers are too helpless to try and improve their condition.
“Some don’t speak a word of Finnish and don’t know anything about the country. Some are afraid of the police. Some can’t even write or read”, one Nepalese person describes the situation.
The workload is so heavy that attending language classes can be impossible, and the owners also try to prevent it. One worker says that his employer changed his work shifts after hearing that the worker intended to attend a Finnish language class in his free time.
Many don’t want to speak of exploitation because the perpetrators are their own relatives. Despite the miserly conditions some feel a sense of gratitude toward the owner, for bringing them to Finland.
One person interviewed by HS says that the owners have brought in their relatives as workers precisely because they believe relatives will not talk to the police.
The owners also paint a powerful image of themselves. For example, Devi Sharma is the leader of the Finnish section of the ruling communist party of Nepal.
According to the Nepalese HS has interviewed, the owners have also spread rumors in the community that police and Victims Support Finland are on their side.
Devi Sharma’s restaurant Gurkha and Hemraj Sharma’s restaurant Mount Everest have bought notable advertisements in the official magazine of Victim Support Finland.
The magazine is a professional publication, the advertisers of which are mainly law firms as well as labor and industry interest groups.
According to Nepalese people interviewed by HS, the owners have presented the magazine ads as proof of cooperation with the authorities. People at Victim Support Finland have become worried that the ads have been used to try and influence the workers’ decision to seek help.
According to Devi Sharma, neither he nor the restaurant’s other owner know what the Gurkha advertisement is about. The other owner however says that the advertisement salesperson called him and he wanted to support the magazine.
At first Hemraj Sharma says that he is not aware of any advertisement. When HS shows him the advertisement, he says that it was bought accidentally.
Devi and Hemraj Sharma, and Ram Aryal, say that their workers are able to move freely and study Finnish. They deny any kind of attempt to insulate their employees from the surrounding society.
Nepal is a country that sends it labor abroad.
Of the country’s 30 million citizens around 3,5 million work in other countries, mainly as construction workers and housemaids in the Middle East and Malesia.
Over the last seven years 260 Nepalese restaurant workers have come to Finland, the vast majority of them cooks.
The reason for leaving is simple.
”People come here for a better life”, says Suman, who used to work in the Kuopio restaurant.
Nepal is one of the world’s poorest nations. Many send money from Finland back to their families.
When the whole family has settled permanently in Finland, one can quit the onerous job of a cook and live on social security, as a number of people describe possible opportunities in the future.
One Nepalese worker interviewed by HS says that he tolerates the exploitation so that his family can have an education and a good life in Finland.
Suman worked in Nepal as a cook and an accountant. Then he met a man who lured him to Finland with promises of a better standard of living. The man was the brother of the restaurant owner convicted for human trafficking.
The owner had promised Suman that if he worked for a year from morning to night with no compensation, he would get a shorter workweek and a salary.
Suman was cheated.
Events similar to Suman’s case are repeated from one cook’s story to the next.
Everything begins with bringing the worker to Finland.
Once a cook has been recruited, they are interviewed at the Finnish embassy in Kathmandu for the residence permit.
HS has seen instructions that the restaurant owner in Kuopio had drafted for Suman’s interview. One of the points states that if asked by embassy officials whether he had to pay for the job, the worker must deny.
In reality the jobs cost money, and the payment is collected by the restaurant owner. Some close relatives notwithstanding this applies to everyone, say Nepalese workers interviewed by HS.
“Almost no one has come here who hasn’t had to pay”, says one cook, who still works in a Nepalese restaurant.
He had to pay the owner over 15 000 euros.
Sometimes the money is paid to the owner on credit. In this case the worker must labor for no pay until the debt has been settled.
This is what happened in Suman’s case, too. Suman says that he agreed to the arrangement because he could not afford to pay the over 10 000 euros demanded by the owner.
Some of the money demanded for a job in Finland is paid back in Nepal.
HS has seen documents which show that a cook who came to Finland paid a restaurant owner thousands of euros in Nepal.
Part of the money is paid in Finland. One cook’s bank records, seen by HS, show a payment of over 5 000 euros soon after the cook arrived in Finland, made to a person dictated by the restaurant owner.
According to one Nepalese worker he was first told that he wouldn’t have to pay anything to come to Finland. Later the owners demanded compensation from him.
HS has seen messages concerning these demands. In one message the cook asks the owner of a restaurant in Vantaa, called Sagarmatha, whether a sum equal to around 10 000 euros is sufficient. The owner however responded that she didn’t want to discuss the matter in writing.
The police department of Eastern Uusimaa is investigating a case of possible exploitation in the case. The owner denies any wrongdoing and says that she has not demanded money for the job.
Demanding payment for a job has, according to many Nepalese interviewed by HS, led to owners easily firing workers.
“Then you can bring in a new worker, and demand payment from him”, says one Nepalese person.
The practice of exploitation is recognized by both detective chief inspector Immonen from Eastern Finland’s police department and special researcher Tuija Hietaniemi from the National Bureau of Investigation.
According to them, the abuse uncovered by HS’s investigation is widespread in Nepalese restaurants.
“The common assumption is that exploitation happens in close to all Nepalese restaurants”, Hietaniemi says.
”Workers pay substantial amounts of money in order to get here. After that they are held in terrible conditions and they are made to do a senseless amount of work. The victims are too afraid to speak out.”
HS’s investigation shows that labor conditions are the worst in the first years.
“After arriving here I had no off days. I worked for fourteen hours every day for a year”, says one cook who still works at a Nepalese restaurant.
Another employee says that he worked for 300 hours a month with no days off for two years. The man was employed in Devi Sharma’s Himalaya restaurant in Helsinki’s Ratakatu.
Devi Sharma denies that exploitation has taken place in his restaurant. He says that the work shift is around eight hours a day and the salary is in line with the collective bargaining agreement.
The contracts of Nepalese workers regularly state a salary of around 1 800 euros before taxes.
However, some have to pay a portion of their salary back to the owner.
One Nepalese person interviewed by HS says that he transferred part of his wage back to the employer. Some of the money he took out from an ATM and gave as cash.
Some cooks don’t get paid at all, especially during the first years. Some are paid a few hundred or thousand euros now and then.
This is what happened to Suman. According to the District Court, the owner stole wages and extras from him to the amount of 58 000 euros.
In some cases the employer has taken control of the worker’s bank card and internet banking codes.
To officials it looks like everything is paid according to the law, but in reality the money is used by the owner.
This is what happened in the Kuopio human trafficking case. The owner’s wife bought items from a children’s store, among other places, using Suman’s bank card.
Some do really get the salary stated in their work contract. The hourly wage can still end up being very small, since the workload can be up to 250–300 hours a month, the Nepalese workers say.
Based on interviews that HS conducted, this is the most usual form of exploitation.
The figures differ completely from what is commonplace in the restaurant business.
For example, a cook working 250 hours a month should earn 3 637 euros a month based on the collective bargaining agreement of Service Union United. Many Nepalese interviewed by HS have worked even longer and earned at most 1 800 euros.
Sunday-, overtime- and other extra compensation is usually not paid according to the regulations, or at all.
HS asked one Nepalese cook to dissect his work week in Devi Sharma’s Himalaya restaurant.
According to the cook, his workload extended to over 300 hours a month. He was paid less than 1 800 euros. Based on a calculation of Services Union United, he should have been paid 5 571 euros.
The cook worked around sixty overtime hours a month. On a yearly basis that amounts to 720 hours, which means an extra five working months in a regular office job.
The law allows overtime for up to 250 hours in a calendar year.
When one has been in Finland for longer, he usually is allowed to work less.
That means a living standard much higher than in Nepal.
One Nepalese cook says that the more a worker understands Finnish regulations and can speak English and Finnish, the better owners treat him.
The employers also devise extra costs to collect from the workers.
One example of concerns families. Finnish law requires a certain level of income from a person who wants to bring his family to the country.
According to the Nepalese workers, the owners will agree to raise the salaries of cooks in order for them to be able to bring in their families. But the raise is then transferred back to the employer.
Sometimes the owner has demanded an extra payment for doing this. That means the worker ends up paying his employer for the possibility to reunite with his family.
At the same time that people are brought from Nepal to Finland, money flows the other way.
A sizeable grey economy surrounds restaurants that reap large profits with the help of exploiting workers.
Many Nepalese interviewed by HS say they have seen this with their own eyes.
Laxmi, a Nepalesese woman who worked in Devi Sharma’s restaurant and home, tells of seeing Sharma handle large quantities of cash and lunch vouchers.
Laxmi is not her real name. For a few years she has been living in a secret address. Laxmi’s case is the one investigated by the police.
According to Laxmi, stacks of cash bound with a rubber band were held in a metal box. Once a month they were taken out. Then the money was spread on a bedsheet and counted.
Laxmi says every month she helped Devi Sharma count the profits collected from the restaurants. She wasn’t allowed to touch the cash. She counted the lunch vouchers and watched as Sharma counted the cash.
The amount of euro bills could amount to well over ten thousand euros a month, Laxmi says.
Devi Sharma denies that any type of grey economy takes place in his restaurants or that the type of cash handling that Laxmi portrays has happened.
Many Nepalese say that during lunch time only the owners and their inner circle are allowed to work the cash register.
Cash and lunch vouchers are not registered, or the register is later corrected so that previous sales are stricken out.
One Nepalese cook interviewed by HS says he saw bags of cash being carried from a restaurant in Southern Finland to the owner. According to him “black money”, as the Nepalese call it, can amount to over a thousand euros on a good day and a few hundred on a bad one.
The employees say that cash is hidden in the restaurant, from where it’s taken to the owner’s home. After the human trafficking case in Kuopio however, the practice has changed in at least some restaurants.
“Now the money is taken to a relative’s place, because the owners know that a dog was used in Kuopio”, says one Nepalese worker.
He’s referring to a detection dog used by the police to find money in the home of the restaurant owner convicted for human trafficking.
Cash was found.
According to police investigation material, there were 4 865 euros between the bed and the mattress. 5 975 euros were found in a leather bag, 7 000 euros in a fabric bag and 2 125 euros in a bag draped in images of flowers.
At the bottom of a cardboard box the police discovered 30 000 euros.
A large share of the cash that the owners collect is sent to Nepal.
According to the Nepalese interviewed by HS, the practice is that everytime someone goes back, they take a stack of cash with them.
“Almost all of the money goes back. Devi has brought in hundreds of people to Finland, and when one of them flies to Nepal, he has to take money with him”, Laxmi says.
She has herself taken cash to Nepal twice, 5 000 and 8 000 euros. Laxmi says she gave the money to a relative of Devi Sharma. She says her understanding is that Sharma uses the money to buy land and real estate.
Devi Sharma denies this. He says that cash generated by his restaurants is not transferred back to Nepal at all.
Detective chief inspector Immonen says she recognizes the large grey economy surrounding the restaurants.
Many diners still pay with cash, especially during lunch time.
When one investigates exploitation in the restaurants, a question comes to mind: how is it possible that abuse on this scale has gone relatively unnoticed in Finland?
Officials do say that for a long time they have been worried about exploitation in the restaurant field. There have, however, been only a few crimes reported.
Hietaniemi, from the National Bureau of Investigation, says that the low number of reports doesn’t indicate a lack of abuse. Instead, it’s a sign of how dependent the workers are on their employers.
The problem doesn’t have to do with just Nepalese but generally South Asian and Chinese restaurants.
Every now and then the abuse comes to light. In 2012 Pirkanmaa’s District Court sentenced the owners of a Vietnamese restaurant for human trafficking and aggravated financial crimes.
In Helsinki, the owners of a Bangladeshi restaurant were sentenced in 2015 to prison for human trafficking. A year later in Vantaa, four Indian men running a pizzeria were sentenced to prison for human trafficking and forbidden from running the company.
There have only been a few sentences concerning Nepalese restaurants in the last years.
Why does no one address the problem?
Police does not, in practice, investigate exploitation in the restaurants unless it gets a tip-off or someone reports a crime.
This very rarely happens.
The organizations, like Victim Support Finland, can only help the victims.
The official body in charge of supervising the restaurants is the Regional State Administrative Agency, whose job it is to make sure that regulations concerning working conditions are adhered to.
For this investigation, HS pored over reports on fifty-six occupational health and safety inspections that the Agency has conducted in Nepalese restaurants in the last few years.
They display various problems here and there, but the abuse that the Nepalese workers speak of does not really show up.
How can that be?
Katja-Pia Jenu, an inspector in charge of occupational health and safety at the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland, says that the Agency cannot be very probing in its inspections.
The owners are usually prepared for the inspector’s visit.
“That’s the problem here. Often everything looks good on paper”, Jenu says.
The workers don’t talk about the abuse. Everyone knows what to say if the inspector comes. If, for example, someone who is supposed to be off based on the duty list is actually working, the inspector is told that the restaurant needed to call in more workers due to a spike in customers.
The National Bureau of Investigation’s Hietaniemi says that exposing work-related exploitation demands extremely effective outside supervision.
”That doesn’t really exist. The Regional State Administrative Agency is overextended as it is, and can only do a small amount of inspections. All the officials are short on resources.”
Even if the police didn’t have grounds to suspect a crime has been committed, it could proactively collect intelligence on Nepalese restaurants. Based on this type of information the police could focus more targeted surveillance on a restaurant.
This type of work, however, consumes a lot of time and money.
A few years ago the police conducted a targeted campaign at Chinese restaurants. Last year Jenu proposed a new target to the National Police Board.
”For the next target we suggest Nepalese restaurants, in which exploitation is systematic, based on information received by Victim Support Finland and us”, Jenu wrote.
The campaign never took place, and officials haven’t received extra resources.
Every year Finns buy hundreds of thousands of meals from Nepalese restaurants.
The widespread exploitation of workers in the restaurants raises questions about the role of the consumer.
If people stopped dining, it could cause a loss of jobs and difficulties for the cooks also. On the other hand: if one buys the food, does one end up supporting the exploitation of workers?
There are no easy answers.
What’s clear at the very least is that illegal activity makes life more difficult for honest entrepreneurs, including Nepalese ones.
New restaurants are being opened constantly. Just in the last few months there have been numerous news items of Nepalese restaurants being set up across Finland.
Suman came to work in Finland almost four years ago.
He does not want to go back to his native country. Anything could happen, Suman says.
“In Nepal they can find someone to kill me, if they pay them a few thousand euros.”
Suman feels that the owners are now at the peak of their powers. He has received threatening messages from the owners’ inner circle.
One person’s messages label Suman a criminal and a backstabber and ask “are you dead yet”. Another person writes that “your days are numbered”.
In Kuopio Mount Sherpa continues to operate. At least one of the victims of human trafficking has continued to work in the restaurant. A few weeks ago the officials raided the restaurant again.
Suman has not gotten back his stolen wages. The police had confiscated assets worth over 200 000 euros from the restaurant’s owners, but the tax authority took its own share before the victims.
This month Suman received 167,25 euros, his first compensation for the damages.
Suman says he’s bitter at the restaurant owners and at the Finnish justice system.
Next year, Suman’s residence permit expires. He intends to seek permanent residency.
After that, Suman does not know what he will do.
Do you feel like you might have been a victim of exploitation? You can get help from Victim Support Finland (Riku) anonymously and free of charge. Contact Pia Marttila at firstname.lastname@example.org, or +358406309669.