Slave workers, distant from their places of origin, from family
and friends, find themselves more vulnerable. They are afraid
of the gunmen, the bosses, of illness, and have little space
in which they can resist. Some run away; others go beyond
that, and inform the authorities or human rights organizations.
Labor and the Creation of Citizenship
as if they were commodities
workers cannot exercise their rights as citizens. Slaves are,
as the Greek philosopher Aristotle defined them, people reduced
to living commodities. Studying slave labor in both rich and
poor countries in the modern world, Professor Kevin Bales
of the University of Surrey, England, affirmed that they are
still commodities in the 21st century, even if under-the-counter
ones for whom no receipts are issued.
fact, the phenomenon of indebted slave labor calls the very
concepts of development and progress into question. Develop
what, and what for? At what cost? Who benefits from development
and in what way? Supplying products at the lowest prices through
slave labor is unacceptable. The cost to keep these modern-day
slaves amounts only to transporting them to their place of
work, feeding and repressing them.
2003, the number of official reports on slave labor rose considerably,
and the government began to change expressions such as "forced
labor" or "semi-slavery" to "slave labor".
The Minister for Human Rights, Nilmário Miranda, in
a meeting with members of Movimento Humanos Direitos (Human
Rights Movement)2 , in Rio de Janeiro,
declared that eradicating slave labor was a priority for the
government. He recognized that eliminating this problem was
a basic requirement for the establishment of a democratic
State. In March 2003, President Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva, launched the National Project to Eradicate Slave Labor,
and reaffirmed this decision.
the number of slaves on the rise?
Lula took office, the number of known cases of indebted slavery
in rural areas rose, reaching, as of August 2003, more than
7000 people in at least ten states3
involving especially cattle-ranching centers, fruit plantations,
sugar and alcohol production plants. The increasing number
of reports can be explained by the greater national awareness
of the problem, and by the efficiency of the investigations
carried out by the government.
investigations are now revealing crimes that used to go unnoticed,
but they don't correspond to the real number of victims, and
to all the companies that use slave labor. It remains cheaper
for a company to keep slaves, even taking the risk of receiving
fines, than to comply with labor laws.
are the slave owners?
rural areas, several plantations accused this year belong
to business groups or individuals that wield considerable
economic4 or political power. In 2003,
quite a stir was caused by the indictment brought jointly
by the Attorney General's office and the Federal Tribunal
against State Representative Jorge Picciani, president of
the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, for keeping slaves
in his Mato Grosso plantation.
similar charge was brought by the Attorney General and the
Federal Tribunal against the vice president of the Federal
Chamber, Representative Inocêncio Oliveira. In February
2003, Augusto Faria, another nationally recognized politician,
was indicted along with his sister. In the last few years,
accusations have been leveled at less well-known politicians
such as the then-representative Vavá Mutran and a former
mayor, Elviro Arantes, both from Pará, and the state
representative of the PPS, Francisco Nonato de Arajo,
acting as Agriculture Secretary in Piauí, but with
land in Pará.
are the slaves taken from?
Brazil, this workforce can be found across poor areas of the
Northeast -- Maranhão, Piauí and Bahia, for
example - and the Midwest -- Goiás and Tocantins --
and spill over into other regions such as Vale de Jequitinhonha,
in Minas Gerais . Being far from home, the slave workers are
less able to defend themselves. In the case of the Amazon
region, the workers usually are more vulnerable. They are
afraid of the gunmen, the bosses, of illness, and have little
space to resist. Some run away; others, beyond that, inform
the authorities or human rights organizations.
a report and its investigation
is still a delay between the issuing of a report and the beginning
of an investigation, not to mention the various plantations
reported that remain to be investigated. This calls into question
the efficiency of the Special Group for Mobile Investigation,
and of the Ministry of Labor. At the end of September, of
204 reports filed on plantations across the country, barely
110 had been looked into (Jornal do Brasil, Sep 28, 2003).
a document dated September 4, 2002, signed by Xavier Plassat,
director of the CPT's Campaign Against Slave Labor, a similar
complaint was made: in that year, of 67 plantations cited,
only 35 had been investigated. On January 26, 2003, at the
Third World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brother Henri Burin
des Rozierz presented a report whose findings confirmed Xavier's
document: "The investigative teams, for lack of human
and material resources, despite their exemplary dedication,
are not able to investigate all plantations. In 2002, the
Group investigated only 38% of the plantations cited (42 of
111) in Pará, and freed only 31% of the workers (1346
out of 4333)".
of resources and will
Federal Police still do not have the resources to carry out
investigations. In addition, many organizations are finding
it necessary to define the legal jurisdiction of federal courts
with greater clarity. If this does not happen, federal judges
will be able to refuse to hear cases, and at the state level,
this kind of case has less chance of success. Local judges
are more subject to external pressures, and this reduces their
freedom to perform their duties as they see fit. The president
of the Labor Court of Justice (TST, in Portuguese), Francisco
Fausto, on the other hand, claims that these cases also fall
under his jurisdiction.
in acting on proposed legislation
have been excessive delays in implementing some pieces of
legislation, as can be seen in the following examples:
In 1996, federal representative Eduardo Jorge presented a
bill (02/022/96) making it unlawful for public institutions
to maintain contracts with companies if they were found to
employ slave labor, directly or indirectly.
- Jaques Wagner, a Federal Representative, presented a bill
three years later (4/29/99) that would prohibit "contracts
between Brazilian companies, or those located on Brazilian
territory, and companies that employ demeaning labor practices
in other countries".
- In February 2003, Jaques Wagner, now holding the office
of Labor Minister, proposed the creation of a Slave Labor
Registry, making it impossible for anyone involved to obtain
credit from financial institutions, and urging the confiscation
of their land.
- Despite all this, at the end of October 2003, the International
Labor Organization reported that companies that employed slave
labor were receiving public resources through banks and public
institutions. In response, the Ministry of National Integration
declared that companies tried and convicted for this crime
would see their fiscal benefits from institutions such as
Sudene and Sudam suspended, and their access to constitutional
financing funds blocked. Patrícia Audi of the OIT also
took the opportunity to state that the government was putting
together a list of 100 companies involved in slave labor,
so that they would stop receiving public money. According
to Nilmário Miranda, National Secretary of Human Rights,
the list would be "a mortal blow to slave labor"
(O Globo, Oct 29, 2003: Economia 21).
1995, when Representative Paulo Rocha first proposed the Constitutional
Amendment (PEC 232), attempts have been made to alter article
243 of the Federal Constitution, to include the crime described
in article 149 of the Brazilian Penal Code (CPB) as a reason
for confiscating land. Attached to PEC 438/2001 of Senator
Ademir Andrade, the proposal was approved by the Senate, but
as of October 2003, it hadn't been voted on by the House of
Representatives (Câmara dos Deputados).
organizations -- Movimento Humanos Direitos , Rede Social
de Justiça e Direitos Humanos, Grupos Rio Maria e Expedito,
Tortura Nunca Mais, among others -- visited the Legislative
Assembly of Rio de Janeiro to request that the Human Rights
and Labor Commissions call a public hearing on the reports
of slave labor in Rio de Janeiro and at the Mato Grosso plantation
filed in 2003 against Representatives Jorge and Leonardo Picciani.
However, they were not successful. The president of the Human
Rights commission, Alessandro Molon, cast the only vote in
favor of the requested hearing.
the south of Pará there is an ongoing slander campaign
directed against members of the CPT, and against authorities
fighting to eradicate slave labor in the region. In Tocantins,
two workers from Ananás also had their lives threatened,
as well as two agents of the CPT in Araguaína - Brother
Xavier Plassat and Silvano Rezende - and the Attorney General,
Mário Lúcio de Avelar de Palmas. In Pará,
the labor judge in Parauapebas, Jorge Vieira, also received
death threats. The judge asked the Federal Police for protection,
but it was refused, so he was forced to move out of the area.
the effort to eliminate slave labor, the executive branch
of the government voiced a strong opposition to this practice.
It demonstrates the desire to take on the issue, as well as
to prevent it. In February 2003, President Lula promised there
would be no cutbacks in resources budgeted for the slave labor
eradication program. To prevent workers from becoming victims
a second time, the federal government created support programs
for the freed worker: payment of unemployment insurance in
three installments, linked to professional development of
workers or members of their families, as well as financing
programs through official banks. Various counties that have
slave labor were specifically targeted by the federal government
as part of the program to combat hunger. In September, the
Brazilian State finally recognized its responsibility in the
case of José Pereira, and agreed on a settlement to
pay R$52,000 to this young man who had survived slave labor
at the Espirito Santo plantation. This was the result of a
petition to the OAS, submitted by the CPT, CEJIL and Human
Labor Ministry and Labor Court
2002, the Public Labor Ministry has working on cases of collective
damages brought against companies that use slave labor. The
success of these cases could serve to dissuade others who
currently benefit from this crime. Here we look at three examples:
On February 20, 2003, the Public Labor Ministry in Pará,
ordered an action to block and trace the accounts of plantation
owners in Redenção who had kept 361 slave workers.
The workers were freed from the Vale do Rio Fresco and Santana
plantations that week by a task force (Jornal do Tocantins
Feb 21, 2003).
2. The first deposit into the Workers' Assistance Fund (FAT
in Portuguese) was made in August 2003, on the orders of the
presiding judge of the Labor Jurisdiction of Parauapebas,
Jorge Vieira. Ranchers Ézio Gonçalves Montes
and Romar Divino Montes, owners of the Vale Paraíso
II Ranch, located in Curionópolis, "spontaneously"
transferred R$40,000 to the FAT, out of a total of R$ 300,000
blocked by the Labor Court, using the Penhora On-Line system
(Notícias do TST, Sep 11, 2003).
3. The Labor Legal office in Pará initiated, on October
22, 2003, a public civil suit against Lima Araújo Agropecuária,
in the amount of R$22 million, for repeat offenses in violation
of article 149, on two of their plantations: Estrela de Alagoas,
in Piçarra, and Estrela de Maceió, in Santana
Office of the Attorney General and The Court of Justice
of the Office of the Attorney General gained momentum with
the replacement of Geraldo Brindeiro by the new attorney general
Cláudio Lemos Fonteles. Cláudio Fonteles has
repeatedly shown his desire to contribute to the eradication
of slave labor. On October 13, 2003, he brought charges before
the Supreme Court against federal representative and vice
president of the House Inocêncio de Oliveira and his
manager for involvement with slave labor.
addition, Minister Nilson Naves, president of the Superior
Court of Justice, denied a habeas corpus for rancher Joaquim
Gonçalves Montes, from Pará (Agência JB
Brasilia, Jan 08, 2003).
House of Representatives (Câmara dos Deputados)
October 29, 2003, the House Constitutional Commission passed
a bill that doubles the penalty for those who maintain workers
in a state of slavery. The minimum sentence, which had been
two years, will now be four; the maximum increases from four
years to eight. The lengthened prison term prevents alternative
penalties from being handed down. The bill still must be voted
on in a full session.
seminars and debates
issue of slave labor has become part of the national agenda.
This can be seen in the interest of the press, and in the
fact that several organizations are working on this issue.
We might highlight as well the inclusion of the topic in round-table
discussions, debates, conferences, seminars and meetings sponsored
by the CPT jointly with Rural Workers Unions, its Federations,
the Bar Association of Brazil, the National Association of
Labor Auditors, and by the Labor and Justice Ministries with
support from the ILO.
mobilization against slave labor has spawned the creation
of campaigns for its eradication. The oldest one is the CPT's,
on the national level, but there are others, such as the one
launched in Campos de Goytacazes, in Rio de Janeiro, in August
2003, with the participation of Cândido Mendes University,
the CPT/RJ, the MST/RJ and other organizations. At the Federal
University of Rio de Janeiro, a study center was set up, which
is putting together a database on slave labor.
it should be noted that the CPT continues to be one of the
best organizations at supporting, documenting, reporting,
and developing suggestions for resolving the issue of slave
labor in rural areas. At the governmental level, the combined
efforts of the auditors, the labor investigators and labor
courts stand out. The work of the ILO has also been important.
But this is not enough. The government needs to implement
other policies, primarily through economic penalties.
Ricardo Rezende participates in a research group about slave
labor in CFCH/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and is
a member of the Board of Directors of the Social Network for
Justice and Human Rights.
NGO created in Rio de Janeiro at the beginnning of 2003, composed
of artists, cartoonists, journalists, and intellectuals, having
as its priority the eradication of slave labor in Brazil.
Pará, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio de Janeiro,
Maranhão, Tocantins, Bahia, São Paulo, Paraná
The Tabuleiro plantation, belonging to Nenê Constantino
of Gol Transportes Aéreos, and the Santa Cruz factory,
belonging to the Boa Vista e Morongaba Company, were some
of the companies cited in 2003.