Finnish documentary aims to show that modern slavery is all around us

In all the Nordic countries, we turn a blind eye to trafficking, oppressive working conditions and modern-day slavery that can found right under our noses, according to the people behind this Yle documentary.

Filmfotograf Niklas Meltio på location. Det har været en udfordring at få kilderne til at udtale sig. Foto: Yle.

More than 40 million people in the world today live as slaves. Sadly, we often forget that slavery also affects us here in the Nordic countries. These are the words of producer Ari Lehikoinen from Yle. He continues:

“Modern-day slaves are often people around us, people who cook for us in restaurants, clean for us or or even refurbish our apartments. With this documentary we want to shine a light on how people live like this, in the shadow of the Nordic welfare state,” says Ari Lehikoinen.

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The documentary series Nordic slavery is still in the planning stages but the aim is to produce 3 to 4 episodes, each 18-28 minutes in duration, which should be ready to air in late autumn this year.

“Most of the world sees our Nordic countries as a unit within Northern Europe, where a strong social welfare system takes care of everyone. But that is far from the truth,” says director Jeanette Björkqvist.

She mentions in particular Romanian women, who are victims of trafficking and used in the Nordic sex industry, as well as underage asylum seekers who slip through our welfare system, with apparently nobody worrying about where they end up. These are vulnerable people who end up underpaid and without any rights in the job market.

Sweden is different

Although the Nordic countries tackle challenges in the same way in many respects, Jeanette Björkqvist is able to spot a big difference.

“Sweden is the largest Nordic country and so it seems that more people are drawn into dubious circumstances here than elsewhere. This is especially true of minors, who disappear in much greater numbers than in the other Nordic countries, even though the issue around exploitation of people is equivalent in Norway, Denmark and Finland,” says Jeanette Björkqvist.

Work on the documentary series is a collaborative process involving colleagues and authorities from across the Nordic region, and not least involving victims of modern-day slavery, though this posed a real challenge.

“We’ve received a lot of help from Nordic colleagues, researchers, police forces and, not least, victims of trafficking. Many reports on these stories leave out the voices of those affected the most. We try to avoid that misunderstanding and we do a lot of talking and filming with a great deal with these people.”

Director Jeanette Björkqvist has organised the series, which shines a light on the dark side of society in the Nordic countries.

Important encouragement from Nordic partners

Another huge challenge has been producing films during the Covid pandemic.

“I have to say, it’s been a real nightmare. It has really been a challenge for us to cope with the travel restrictions, health and safety regulations and masks. Many plans and schedules have been abandoned because of it, so without doubt the pandemic has been our biggest challenge,” says Ari Lehikoinen, who highlights the support from Nordic partners.

We all have a duty to make film and also investigate the darker sides of the Nordic welfare system

Ari Lehikonen, Yle

“It was brilliant that we were partnered up through Nordvision. The support and encouragement we got was important. The Nordic broadcasters have a lot to defend nowadays, so we need to work together,” says Ari Lehikoinen, who thinks that the Nordic cooperation between journalists and directors appears to work.

“Perhaps we don’t make enough use of it. Film production is all about doing things together and collaboration is a strength. Alone we are nothing.”

Do not forget the dark side

With this series, Ari Lehikoinen and director Jeanette Björkqvist hope to make viewers face up to the fact that modern-day slavery is around us, whether we accept it or not.

“You can choose to look the other way, but you can’t say any more that you didn’t know about it.”

Producer Ari Lehikoinen, Yle, glæder sig over den støtte og opmuntring, Nordic slavery-serien har fået fra de nordiske partnere. Vi må samarbejde, siger han.

If Ari Lehikoinen were to point to something that all Nordic film producers can learn from Yle’s experiences in producing Nordic slavery, it would be this: remember to investigate the dark side of society as well.

“We all have a duty to make film and also investigate the darker sides of the Nordic welfare system. Plenty of things are going well in our countries, but there are also a lot of things that we need to fix.”

The film is an internal Yle production, although both director Jeanette Björkqvist and cameraman Niklas Meltio are freelancers.


Research and development support: 15.000 EUR (November 2020)

Production support: 28.000 EUR (December 2021)

Produktions og udviklingsstøtte fra Nordvisionsfonden 2012-2021