Although many don't even know their age, one can see they
are young. They are generally less than 40 years old. A large
number of them have a history of child labor, some together
with parents who were also slaves. Many have no documents.
Those who have a work card usually have that document taken
away by the owner. Slave workers often don't even know where
they will stay. In several reports one will notice that when
they are contacted by the "cats" they are told that
they will be working in one state but end up being taken to
another one. This causes loss of contact with their families.
The presence of armed guards in the ranches, in a large number
of the cases, is another characteristic of slavery. Few workers
take the risk of escaping, especially because there are various
cases of people who have been assassinated or seriously injured
as they tried to escape from the ranches.
The profile of slave workers in Brazil
numerous accounts available on the shelves in the room where
the Mobile Inspection Group of the Labor Ministry in Brasilia
works, reveal a scenario unknown to most of us. There one
finds, written in detail, with numbers, statements and pictures,
the stories of thousands of Brazilians who work 12, 14, 16
hours a day for a plate of rice and flour and a canvas shack
to sleep in. Most of them haven't seen a real (Brazilian currency)
bill in a long time. Worst yet, many don't know their own
ages, complete names, or their parents' names. The majority
is illiterate. Many left their native land - cities in Maranhão,
Piauí, Pará, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso - to
fulfill their dreams: to ensure their family's survival.
data included in the Mobile Group files show that the workers
who are in slave conditions in Pará, Maranhão
and Mato Grosso states come from cities such as Cumaru do
Norte, Redenção, Conceição do
Araguaia, Nova Marabá, Paragominas, Marabá and
Sapucaia - all in Pará -, Peixoto de Azevedo, Alta
Floresta, Torixoreu, Tomucharel, Nova Guarita, Barra do Bugre,
Poconé, Jucimeira, Rondonópolis and Cuiabá
- in Mato Grosso -, Colina de Maranhão, Piquiá,
Barra do Corda, Açailândia, São Luís,
Buriticupu, Grajaú, Igarapé Grande, Centenário,
Santa Quitéria, Imperatriz, Vitória do Mearim,
Porto Franco, Caxias, Campestre, Zedoca, Vitorino Freire,
Bacabau, Grajaú, São Mateus, Coroatá,
Barra do Corda, Alzilândia, Alto Alegre, Santa Maria,
Timbiras, Bom Jardim, Codó, Eugênio Barros, Santa
Rosa and Bom Jesus da Selva - in Maranhão -, Buritis
do Tocantins, Palmas e Ananás - Tocantins -, Parnaíba,
Campo Maior, Barras, União and Regeneração
- located in Piauí, known as the state that exports
the most slave workers in Brazil -, Uruaçu, Catalão,
Cristalina, Goiânia, Barro Alto, Pilar de Goiás,
Anápolis, Santo Antonio do Rio Verde - in Goiás
-, Mirabela, Coromandel, Diamantina, São João
Del Rei, Porto Firme, Patrocínio, Guarda-Mor, Patos
de Minas, Sabará, Brumadinho, Juiz de Fora, João
Monlevade - in Minas Gerais, among others.
workers' enticement starts as soon as they get off the bus,
and they are invited to stay at a boarding hotel. From there,
they are taken to the place where they will work, usually
in an over-full truck.
The restriction of their rights include not being able to
come and go, labor obligations not abided by, lack of first
aid for workers who fall sick, enticement with false promises,
subjecting the workers to live in shacks, charging abusive
prices - about 30% the market price usually - for meals, working
tools, fuel, replacement of chain saws, individual safety
equipment and even for the canvas they have to buy to cover
the shack where they sleep.
one case, at the ranch belonging to the business Sementes
Boi Gordo, in Agua Clara, Mato Grosso do Sul, we found sick
workers, including an Indigenous man and a three month old
baby. Daily work hours vary from 12 to 16 hours, from Monday
to Sunday, most of the times with no weekly rest.
water is normally dug from wells by the workers themselves,
and kept in improvised containers. The dwelling consists of
shacks of straw and plastic canvas, on hard dirt floors, without
tables or seats, or sanitary installations; workers have to
tend to their physiological needs in the woods. Because they
don't have access to transportation, they have to buy food
from the labor intermediaries who tend not to inform people
about the prices of products. The workers' debts turn them
Guapirama ranch, belonging to the company Maeda S/A Agroindustrial
in Diamantino, Mato Grosso, an inspection from March 29 to
April 9, 2000, found the workers lodged in a 300 square meter
fenced porch that was made for grain storage, with no health
conditions, lighting, or windows, with rats, cockroaches,
and snakes. The workers had no beds or hammocks; several of
them had injuries and couldn't count on first aid.
another ranch, Monte Cristo, located in Bom Jesus da Selva,
in Maranhão, 12 workers, including men, women and children,
shared the same shack about 3X6 meters (9X18 ft). Food was
strewn all over the floor. There were no sanitary installations.
The shower was a bucket by the Pindare River, at 500 meters
from the dwellings. Water for consumption was taken from a
concrete pipe for the cattle, supplied through piping coming
from a neighboring ranch. The workers blocked part of the
pipe with wood to help themselves to the water. This way they
separated the water from the cattle. The inspection was done
from February 26 to March 12, 2002.
Campo Grande ranch, in Acailandia, Maranhão, one of
the workers, known as Pintinho, fell sick, and the other workers
had to pay R$1.00 each for the sick man's debt. Otherwise,
even as he was already so weak, he would not be allowed to
go to the hospital.
The report that describes the operation carried out in Caraíbas
ranch, when it belonged to Congress member Inocêncio
Oliveira, shows that 15 people, among them a teenager, were
in slave conditions. The ranch is located in Goncalves Dias,
Maranhão, and the inspection was carried out from March
19 to 27, 2002. Those workers were from União, in Piauí,
situated 200 kilometers from the ranch. Seven names of enticers
were identified: Antonio Dias Madeira, João Ferreira,
Luiz Gonzaga de Souza, José Luís ("Magro
Velho"), Vicente da Silva Sousa, Joaquim Hipólito
da Cruz and Deusanildo Vieira Silva. The report by the Mobile
Group describes the situation in Caraibas ranch as follows:
dwellings, without floor or lighting of any sort, without
sanitary installations. The water available was drawn from
a dirty pool, without any treatment. Boots and work tools
were deducted from the salaries. Food: just rice and beans,
also deducted in the salary (the workers could not leave without
paying the debt.) Lodging in shacks, some of wood and others
of dirt, covered with straw, without side protection or sanitary
installations, precarious higiene conditions; no equipment
provided; lodging with difficult access, no transportation
for the workers; when they needed to go out they had to swim
to the other side of the river; they received no salary. In
6X4 meter shacks (24 square meters / 66 sq. ft.) about 30
workers were lodged; they had their meals sitting on the floor.
workers often don't even know where they will be staying.
They are informed they will be working in one state and end
up being taken to another. This makes them lose contact with
their families. The presence of armed guards in the ranches,
in large number of cases, is another characteristic of the
regime of slavery. Extremely few are the workers who risk
escaping, also because in several occasions people got assassinated
or gravely injured, in the escape attempts from the ranches.
many workers don't even know their own ages, one can see they
are young. Generally they are less than 40 years old. Many
have a history of child labor, some with parents who were
slaves themselves. Many don't have documents. Those who have
work cards usually have them taken away by the landowner.
reports by the Mobile Group denounce that the farms had public
financing. That is the case of Minas Gerais II ranch, in Tocantins,
that has a plaque in the entrance stating that it received
funding from the Banco da Amazônia. At least four of
their workers received death threats. Those men went on foot
to Highway BR152, and from there they paid for a ride to the
city of Balsas.
case, in Indiaporã and Diamantino ranches, of the Agropecuária
Vale Bonito S/A, in Sapucaia, a plaque in the entrance showed
that they also had government's funding from Banco da Amazônia:
of Planning and Budget - Office of Special Regional Policies
- Superintendency of Development of Amazônia (SUDAM)
Project: cattle culture for the production of precocious calves
(financed by Sudam)
Value: R$ 11,417,100.00 (=US4m)
Time period: 3 years
Banco da Amazônia S.A.
an inspection made from February 25 to March 4, 2000, the
Mobile Group liberated 69 workers, including 66 men, 2 women
and 1 child.
the seminar on slave and degrading work carried out during
the Brazilian Social Forum - and organized by the Social Network
for Justice and Human Rights, the Pastoral Land Commission,
the International Labor Organization, among other organizations,
Human Rights Minister Nilmário Miranda announced that
the government would soon publish a list with the names of
the businesses and ranchers that use slave labor. Those people
will not receive credit from public banks such as the Caixa
Econômica Federal, BNDES and Banco do Brasil.
* Evanize Sydow is a journalist with the Social Network for
Justice and Human Rights and participated as a researcher
in a survey done by the International Labor Organization for
a database on slave labor in Brazil.