While, as the ILO has recognized, there have been
positive movements in the fight against slave labor, old
obstacles persist, such as impunity, and the non-approval of
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 438-2001, which relates to
confiscation of property in cases where slave labor occurs.
There is a lack of preventive measures in place to generate
income for those workers most vulnerable to abuse and measures
designed to implement effective land reform.
in Brazil: New and Persistent Issues
some Brazilian airports, passengers may encounter a
surprising advertisement campaign:
signs denouncing slavery.
Dozens of advertisements on the same theme have been
distributed across rural and urban areas, and films have
been made about the subject.
Buarque de Holanda wrote in 1936
that the 1888 abolition of slavery was the dividing line in
national evolution, the beginning of the end of the rural
oligarchy’s power. In
the first decade of the twenty-first century, however, large
landowners remain powerful and have strong influence over
legislators, and slavery continues to occur. Inspections
reveal new centers of the crime, detailed in Article 149 of
the Brazilian Penal Code as “reduction to a condition
analogous to slavery,” in rural properties. Occasionally,
agents of the Ministry of Labor and Employment, the Justice
Department, and the Public Ministry of Labor liberate groups
of workers from conditions of slavery.
Behind the label of slave labor there are an enormous
variety of hidden situations, due in part to the changes
introduced in Article 149.
“Degrading work” itself is now regarded as slave
labor by investigators and by legal professionals.
this introduction complete, we can discuss some observations
about the contemporary characteristics of the problem.
The order in which they are presented here does not
reflect their order of precedence or importance.
first observation concerns rural property owners who have
been denounced in Brazil this year or in recent years.
Those suspected of the crime of slavery are
predominantly involved in agribusiness.
They combine the technology of an informationalized
and globalized world with degrading and coercive forms of
labor. They are
“modern” business people, and some among them hold or
have held public office, especially in the state and federal
legislature, including the Senate.
There are also others in positions of power, such as
mayors, government ministers, secretaries of state, and
judges – even the head of a private university was
recently implicated in using slave labor.
next observation has to do with conclusions that can be
taken from an examination of those authority figures
involved in accusations.
Some maintain residency outside of the state in which
the crime was committed.
Authorities from Pernambuco and Pará states
committed crimes in properties in Maranhão state; a Pará
official was involved in a crime in another municipality of
the same state; other officials from Alagoas, Minas Gerais,
Maranhão, Tocantins, Paraná, Rio Grande do Norte, and Paraíba
have been accused of committing offenses in Pará; city
officials from Rio de Janeiro in a Mato Grosso property;
from Minas Gerais, in a plantation in Tocantins and Goiás;
from Sao Paulo, in a Goiás plantation.
As in the past, victims typically are not from the
same state or municipality where the violation is committed.
observation has to do with the international dimension of
slave labor. In
September 2006, the French newspaper Le
Monde reported that nine Poles had gone to work in an
Italian tomato harvest.
They were detained by two of their fellow countrymen
and principally by a Ukrainian who, armed, threatened them
by asserting that “here I am the Law; you are my slaves”.
He warned that it would not help them to attempt to
flee, for he would return.
Finally, police freed them and 113 other Polish
workers who were being exploited in “inhumane conditions”.
Police detained 27 people – Poles, Ukrainians, an
Algerian and an Italian – accused of “human trafficking”
and the crime of “reduction to slavery”.
noted above, slavery simultaneously affects countries on
various continents and of differing economic situations,
such as Italy and Brazil.
The report “A Global Alliance Against Forced
Labor”, published by the ILO in 2005, on the occasion of
its 93rd meeting, reveals the existence of 12.3
million victims of forced labor across all continents. Slave
labor has repercussions beyond state and national borders;
it involves both national and foreign workers.
Meat produced in Brazil under conditions of slave
labor can end up marketed and sold in Great Britain;
clothing made in São Paulo by Bolivians may be sold to
suppliers of the Dutch multinational C&A,
as the Public Ministry of Labor warned;
a portion of Mato-Grosso’s sugarcane, the product of slave
laborers recruited from four Northeastern states, was sold
to an alcohol distillery and thus entered into the gasoline
businesses accused of using slave labor are diverse. In the rural sector, the best-known cases are related to
cattle ranchers, but there have also been accusations
against producers of cotton, soy, lumber, sugarcane, coffee,
black pepper, and even plant-based charcoal. In urban areas,
the cases that appeared in 2006 were in the textile business
and the selling of hammocks and cloaks.
solutions for this problem are still far from being reached.
Among the organizations that stand out in addressing
this issue are the International Labor Organization (ILO)
the Pastoral Land Commission, the Research Group on
Contemporary Slave Labor of the Federal University of Rio de
Janeiro, the NGO Repórter Brasil, the Ethos Institute, and
the Center of Defense of Life and Human Rights.
In one form or another, they have organized meetings,
seminars, courses, publications and research.
Some activities that had positive results in 2006
as the ILO has recognized, there have been positive
movements in the fight against slave labor, old obstacles
persist, such as impunity, and the non-approval of Proposed
Constitutional Amendment 438-2001, which relates to
confiscation of property in cases where slave labor occurs.
Finally, as the CPT (Pastoral Land Commission) and
CEJIL (Center for Justice and International Law) charged
against the Brazilian government in October 2006 at the
Organization of American States, there is a lack of bold
preventive measures in place to generate income for those
most vulnerable to abuse and measures designed to implement
effective land reform.
The inspections undertaken by the Special Group of
Mobile Inspection and by some Regional Labor Delegations, such as
those from Rio de Janeiro and Pará, grew and became
The Actions on Collective Moral Harm, petitioned by the
Public Ministry of Labor, were frequently welcomed on
the part of the Labor Justice Department;
The National Commission for the Eradication of Slave
Labor (CONATRAE), a department attached to the Special
Secretary of Human Rights, was created to monitor the
execution of the National Plan for the Eradication of
Slave Labor, and has been functioning regularly since
Plans for the eradication of slavery were developed in
some states, such as Maranhão and Piauí, by the
Ministry of Agricultural Development;
The regular publishing, since 2003, of the Ministry of
Labor and Employment’s list of businesses involved in
The launch of the National Pact for the Eradication of
Slave Labor occurred in May 2005 with the support of
civil society organizations, and dozens of national and
Some landowners have become concerned with the possible
consequences of accusations of slave labor being used in
their production chains, such as boycotts, suspension of
public financing, fines, etc.,
and signed the National Pact for the Eradication of
Slave Labor, promising not to acquire products sourced
from properties on the list of businesses involved in
the use of slave labor;
Business owners created the Social Cotton Institute
in Mato Grosso, and the Citizens’ Institute on Coal (ICC)
in Maranhão. The
ICC was born of the initiative of seven steel producers
in the state to “direct and investigate all activities
related to the plant production chain (…) with the
goal of complying with labor legislation and other norms
of protection of the security and health of workers and
preservation of the work environment”.
Furthermore, the ICC intends to “develop a
program of social integration for those workers rescued
from slave labor, offering them employment in the area
of reforestation by the associated steel producers.”
The IAS, based in Cuiabá, was created in the end
of 2005 to regularize the relations between labor and
the security of workers.
With the support of the Mato Grosso Association
of Cotton Producers (AMPA), it utilizes resources
obtained from The Support Fund for Cotton Growers (FACUAL)
and seeks to follow “the requirements of the
international market, with products that recognize and
respect social and human relations in their production
IAS created “five mobile teams with experts on labor
security and human resources, which visit farms and
propose changes to make their labor more socially
It is also important to emphasize moments of tension,
such as in the case of Mato Grosso, when there was a
confrontation between state police and federal officials
during an investigation coordinated by the Special Group
for Mobile Investigation.
Of the governors elected this year, only four have
officially committed to Repórter Brasil’s proposal
that they implement measures to eradicate slave labor.