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English Report

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

Evanize Sydow*

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Potable 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 into slaves.

In 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.

In 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.

In 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:

"Precarious 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.

Slave 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.

Although 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.

Some 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.

Another 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:

"Ministry 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.

In an inspection made from February 25 to March 4, 2000, the Mobile Group liberated 69 workers, including 66 men, 2 women and 1 child.

In 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.