estimate is that there are between 150-200 thousand
undocumented Bolivians living in the city of São Paulo. More
than 90% of them work for small factories that are the
property of Koreans, Brazilians, and other Bolivians. They
work about 18 hours a day, and they get paid $30 cents for
each piece they sew. The places where they work, and generally
live, are dark, humid, and totally unhealthy. Many people
develop respiratory problems or tuberculosis. When the Federal
Police free enslaved Brazilians from farms in the Northeast,
those workers are free. But when the police find Bolivians in
the same situation in São Paulo, the most probable outcome is
that they are deported from Brazil. Thus, the immigrants
themselves do not want to denounce the situation.
and Slave Work
e Luciane Udovic2
labor is still common in Brazil. This practice has caused the
death of many workers due to fatigue or exhaustion in the
According to the Pastoral Service of Migrants, migrant workers
are the majority of victims of slave work. The
impunity of those responsible, the morosity of the judicial
processes, and the lack of coordination between the different
governmental departments ends up protecting people responsible
for the practice of forced labor in Brazil.
report “Slave Labor in Brazil in the 21st Century,”
released in September of 2006 by the International Labor
Organization (ILO), brings to light innumerable cases of slave
labor. Municipalities in the southern region of Maranhão –such
as Açailândia and Bom Jesus das Selvas- for example, are
prime exporters of migrant slave labor to the states of Pará
and Mato Grosso. Also, many of the principal exploiters of the
regime of slavery in the nation are located in the South of
the Maranhão- in large farms and coalmines.
According to the report, the majority of the laborers are
migrant workers, between ages 18 and 40 years. The greatest
portion of the migrant population is located in the state of Maranhão.
The states of Piauí and Tocantins complete the list of the
three principal exporters of migrant slave labor to the state
of Pará. Unemployment in these
regions where the migrant workers come from is a serious
problem, so people need to leave their homes and go in search
of work in distant places, such as the agricultural border
region of the Amazon, in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso.
by the Ministry of Labor show that 80% of the workers found in
situations of slavery work are in the cattle farming industry.
The vast majority of the cases deal with clearing out land
after the trees have been burned, so that the land can serve
as pasture. After cattle grazing, the other industries with
high incidences of slave labor conditions are soy and cotton
plantations, making up 10% of the cases.
ILO report brings to light information about the quality of
life of the workers, such as in the case of Manuel do Maranhão,
who experienced the hard conditions of contemporary slave
skin of Manuel turned into leather after years of Amazonian
sun and the sweat from his face. In the Southeast of Pará,
cattle are worth more than people. Manuel ends up serving the
cattle, with the job of cleaning the pasture: they have
made a watering hole for the cow to drink and for us to drink
as well.” He has worked from Sunday to Sunday, but
there is no payment, just beans, rice and a blanket to cover
himself at night. When it is time to pay the workers, the cats
(contractors of migrant laborers at the service of farmers)
said that Manuel
and the others had “eaten” all of his payment, and that if
he wanted money he would have to stay and work more. “They
say the law does not enter the farm,” says Manuel, who fled
and decided to fight for his rights. Manuel was born in a city
of Maranhão on the border with Piauí. He has five sons, the
youngest of which is eight years old. But Manuel could not
obtain land to create a small farm in his state. “If I had
land, I would not have left my home and go to Pará,” he
the last ten years, almost 18 thousand people were liberated
from situations of slavery in the country. According to the
ILO, there are about 25 thousand people living under
conditions of slavery in Brazil.
the methods used to keep workers in slave-like conditions are
the same as those used in the 19th Century: a table of debts.
The laborers begin to work already in debt for transportation,
clothing, food, and even the material needed for work. All
these costs are deducted from their salaries. The situation is
even worse because the majority of the workers leave their own
cities to work very far from home, and they break home ties,
so many times they do not even know what city or state they
are in. The majority, 91.5% of the freed people, are migrant
workers from Maranhão, Piauí, and Tocantins.
state of Pará is the leader in cases of slave labor. The
Pastoral Land Commission shows that from 1995 to 2005, 50% of
the cases of slave labor were found in Pará. Of the freed
workers, 37.5% came from that region. After Pará, comes the
state of Mato Grosso, with 22.3% of the freed workers. This is
not accidental, but rather it is precisely in the “new
frontier” of agriculture where most cases are found. So,
slave labor is aassociated with forest destruction and
violence in the countryside. Amongst the top ten
municipalities that registered most cases of assassinations in
the fields, seven are also on the top list of regions that
concentrate enslaved workers.
São Paulo, sugarcane cutters die of exessive work
the state of São Paulo, 70 % of sugarcane workers are
migrants from the North or the Northeast of Brazil. Migrant
workers go to São Paulo in search of work, principally in the
sugarcane industry, and have to live in very difficult
October 2005, during a public hearing in the city of Ribeirão
Preto, migrant worker José Ezequais Souza Barros, 28 years
old, revealed his situation: “I worked on the Moreno
plantation in the municipality of Luiz Antonio, São Paulo,
from 7 am to 4pm. I had hardly 30 minutes of break for lunch.
I broke my shoulder cutting sugarcane, and I have been unable
to work for two months. I used to cut 10 tons of sugarcane
each day for the price of R$1.30. The bad living conditions,
he dust and the heat, the lack of food, give an idea why the
sugarcane workers are dying.”
work of cutting sugarcane is not regulated. There is not a
single means for determining production per capita, to the
extent that not even the workers know for sure how many tons
they cut per day. The workers are deceived. It used to be
thought that, on average, in one day’s work, a workers would
cut about 10 tons of sugarcane. However, upon installing a
computer to count the production, it was actually 20 tons.
cane cutters are, in the most part, migrants between 18 and 40
years old, from the states of Bahia, Pernambuco, Minas Gerais,
Maranhão, and Paraíba. In the last two years, 17 workers in
the São Paulo sugarcane industry have died of excessive work.
Slave Victims of Sewing
estimated that there are between 150 thousand and 200 thousand
undocumented Bolivians in the city of São Paulo. The majority,
more than 90%, work for small factories that are the property
of Koreans, Brazilians, and other Bolivians. They work about
18 hours a day, and they get paid $30 cents per piece they sew.
The places where they work, and generally live, are
dark, humid, and totally unhealthy. Many people develop
respiratory problems or tuberculosis.
the Federal Police free enslaved Brazilians from farms in the
Northeast, those workers are free. But when the police find
Bolivians in the same situation in São
Paulo, the most probable outcome is that they are expelled
from Brazil. Thus,
the immigrants themselves do not want to denounce the
situation of slavery.
cook Imaculada (fictional name), 21 years old, has been living
for four years in Brazil.
She says that she decided to pay by the
“salvo-conduto” (safe-conduct), because the consulate told
her that only this way would she be able to request a
Brazilian citizenship for her daughters both born here, one
who is 4 years old and the other who is 3 months old.
She lost all her documents in an assault, but she has a
birth certificate sent by relatives.
Her situation is precarious.
According to a press representative of the Federal
Police, the “salvo-conduto” serves as an identification,
but it does not help in any way for Imaculada to stay in
Brazil or register her daughters. Her only chance is that the
process of expulsion takes long enough that the daughters
might be recognized as Brazilian citizens, which takes about
two years and would give Imaculada the right to residency. But
she also hopes for an amnesty from the government for
citizenship and human rights: Another world is possible
presence of thousands of immigrants in practically all nations
demands a reflection about this theme. In terms of immigration,
Latin American integration, in its current model, is not
enough to respond to the interests of our people. We don’t
want an integration that permits financial capital to move
freely throughout our continent, without permitting the most
impoverished and excluded people to do the same. We don’t
want an integration oriented towards opening our economies
only to large corporations. We
want an integration based on equality, participation,
plurality, and solidarity.
of 1,193 organizations from 84 countries debated this issue
during the Second World Social Forum on Migration, in Rivas
Vaciamadrid (Spain), from the 22nd to the 24th of June, 2006.
The “Declaration of Rivas” stated:
is a process that happens in the context of economic
an economic, political, cultural, and social process related
directly to the effects of neoliberal policies worldwide. All
people who arrive to a new place should have all the rights
inherent to the conditions of citizens, including the right to
Udovic is a member of the Continental Office of the Cry of the