According to the OIT (International Labor Organization), the
place of origin of the workers rescued from slavery in Pará
is the state of Pará itself in 35% of the cases, 22%
from Maranhão, 14% from Piauí, and 13% from
Tocantins. An important contingent of these workers (14%)
is already from the area, as they have lost all ties with
their places of origin and their families. Considering those
workers' origins, it has been shown that only 8% are from
Pará, whereas 39% are from Maranhão, 22% from
Piauí and 16% from Tocantins.
Slave Work in Pará
Fr. Xavier Plassat*
The practice of slave work has become routine in Pará
The reality of slave work in Pará is not new. Public
policies of financial and fiscal incentives developed since
the '60s promoted an influx of thousands of investors and/or
adventurers who wanted to maximize profit in the shortest
time. They received a great deal of public subsidies.
first news of slave work circulated in the regions of Santana,
Conceição do Araguaia and Marabá. One
important case was documented at the Volkswagen ranch. But
there were very few inspections or investigations. In the
last few years, cases of slave work are in the news almost
From January of 2000 to September of 2003, the Pastoral Land
Commission denounced 9,906 cases of slave work, in 298 ranches
in Pará, in a scale that kept growing from year to
year: 16 reports and 334 workers in 2000, 24 cases and 1,355
workers in 2001, 117 cases and 4,333 workers in 2002, and
during the first 9 months of 2003, 143 cases and 3,889 workers.
Pará alone accumulated, in this period from 2000 to
2003, 74% of the reports of slave work in the country (13,331).
whole iceberg of slave work still lies very much out of society's
sight, since the only cases registered are the ones where
some fugitive workers, after facing the most varied risks,
manage to come forward. Some organizations estimate that the
total number of slave workers in Brazil is between 25,000
farming and lumber sectors often use slave work. More than
80% of workers rescued from slavery are in cattle ranches.
They perform the hardest physical tasks, as temporary workers,
without any rights according to the Brazilian Labor Law.
2. Slave work in Pará represents a portion of a perverse
analysis of slave labor in 39 Pará counties in the
last three years reveals that in 19 of them there were slave
workers (the total number of cases was 8,629). These areas
were: Paranapebas, Parauapebas, Canaã dos Carajas,
Xinguara, Rio Maria, Redenção, Piçarra,
Sapucaia, Sta Maria das Barreiras, Itupiranga, Água
Azul do Norte, Bannach, Novo Repartimento, Curionópolis,
Cumaru do Norte, Marabá, Dom Elizeu, Pacajá,
Santana do Araguaia, and São Félix do Xingu.
to preliminary data by a survey performed by the OIT-Brazil,
the origin of workers rescued from slavery in Pará
is the state of Pará itself in 35% of the cases, from
Maranhão 22%, 14% from Piauí, and13% from Tocantins.
An important contingent of these workers (14%) has lost all
ties with their place of origin and with their families. Considering
the place of origin of those workers, only 8% are from Pará,
whereas 39% are from Maranhão, 22% from Piauí,
and 16% from Tocantins.
those states there is a large industry of trafficking workers,
starting with the landowners, and including a complex network
of intermediaries, where the contractor, known as the "cat",
plays a major role. It also includes the owners of boarding
houses, the transporter, and the police station inspector.
According to an investigation presented in a recent book by
Binika Le Breton, all of them earn good money. On the other
hand, the workers suffer physical and/or psychological violence,
isolation, and humiliation.
3. A complex crime that kills men and nature
The practice of slave labor rarely occurs alone. It is associated
with various other crimes, such as homicide, killer gangs,
illegal deforestation, negligence in tax payments, invasion
of Indigenous land, weapons and drug traffic.
or because of it, it has been extremely difficult to find
and punish these crimes. Of the 124 cases inspected in Pará
in the last four years, resulting in the liberation of 3,439
enslaved workers (40% of the national cases in this period:
8,650), we have no knowledge of any consistent criminal conviction.
From 1995 to 2001, in Southern Pará, there were only
two convictions of ranch owners. And only four contractors
were convicted, a few simply sentenced to donate food baskets.
1996 and 2003, we identified only 49 people reported for this
type of crime. Related to those 49 reports, to this moment
only 24 sentences were issued. Among the total people sentenced,
80% went unpunished and only 20% received penalties. It is
interesting to note the reason for the absence of penalty:
one half is due to proscription, and 27% for lack of interest
in the process. Among the guilty, 41% benefited from proscription,
21% through lack of interest in the process, 17% were absolved,
13% received alternative sentences, 4% received preventive
imprisonment, and other 4% were sentenced to prison on semi-open
impunity works as the most powerful incentive to this criminal
practice. A 2002 report by CPT found, among the 10 biggest
farmers identified with slave labor, an average of 5 inspections
finding the same practice, the champions being the following
ranchers: Jairo Andrade (with 10 reports in the CPT records),
Quagliato Group (with 9 citations), Romeiro Albuquerque (7),
Antônio Barbosa (6), Lima Araújo Agropecuária
/ Land and Cattle Co. (4).
4. The road to eradicating slave labor
The best way to stop the practice of slave labor is by creating
preventive policies. It's also necessary to intensify repression
and punishment. Liberating convoys of workers, as work inspectors
do, will never eradicate slave work by itself. In risky and
daring actions, which intensified lately because of the government's
National Plan to Eradicate Slave Labor, inspectors usually
can only impose the payment of labor fees.
it's necessary to implement other policies to ensure job creation
and agrarian reform. The eradication of slave labor needs
to include short-term solutions (repression and effective
punishment) and medium and long range ones (generating work
alternatives and public policies, such as education and access
labor attorneys and judges have recently pioneered actions
against employers who repeat the practice of slave labor.
These include immediate payments of labor fees, and blocking
bank accounts and other assets. Additionally, the Labor justice
has created Mobile courts.
October of 2003, the Public Ministry of Pará started
a legal case against Lima Araújo Land & Cattle
- owner of Estrela de Maceió and Estrela das Alagoas
ranches. In that sentence, the fee for collective moral damages
reached the uncommon value of $R22 million, or 40% of the
estimated total value of those ranches. In four consecutive
years, the Labor Ministry had found the use of slave labor
there, rescuing 180 workers.
this is not common. The Justice system continues to be slow
and inefficient in most cases. To the penalties already applicable
to the crime of slave labor, the Brazilian Congress needs
to add land confiscation, blocking any public financing or
bidding. The landowners also need to pay for environmental
destruction. To eradicate slave labor in Para and Brazil it's
necessary to mobilized civil society, as well as the Legislative,
the Executive and the Judiciary systems.
Xavier Plassat is the Coordinator of the National Campaign
Against Slave Labor of the Pastoral Land Commission.