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Charcoal Kiln Slave Laborer in Brazil

Slave Worker – Charcoal Kiln – Brazil
Photo Credit: Ministry of Labor

Made possible through the Access to Information Act, on February 5, 2016, the Brazilian National Institute Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labor (InPACTO) released the Ministry of Labor’s updated blacklist of 340 companies fined for maintaining workers under slave-like conditions. While agricultural enterprises make up the large majority, textile and construction companies operating in urban areas are not far behind.

Since 2003, the Ministry of Labor began publishing its annual “Laundry List,” as it is known, to deter companies from using slave labor. The blacklist reveals the identity of the owner, business name with registration number, and address. Those blacklisted cannot obtain government loans and participate in public auctions. Under the National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labor of 2005, they also face private sector boycott of their products and services.

Due to inadequacies of these measures to eradicate slave labor, the Brazilian Congress went a step further in June 2014. Despite fierce lobbying by ranchers, they passed a constitutional amendment legalizing the expropriation of propriety owned by businesses caught exploiting slave labor. Without any compensation to their owners, such land in rural areas would be earmarked for agrarian reform and housing projects for landless rural workers.

Then, in December 2014, the Brazilian Association of Real Estate Developers obtained a Supreme Court order suspending the release of the “Laundry List,” claiming it illegal and unconstitutional.

Last year, the Ministry of Labor carried out 140 on-site inspections. In 90 out of the 257 establishments visited in both rural and urban areas, officials rescued 1,010 victims found working under slave-like conditions. The greatest number of victims (313) was concentrated in mineral extraction and in breaking stones. Urban construction slave workers (187) make up the second largest group, followed by those found in agriculture (155), and cattle rearing (144).

Child Slave Labor - Brazil

Photo Credit: Blog do Mochila

By state, Minas Gerais ranks in first place with 148 slave workers rescued. Other top ranking states include Maranhão (107), Rio de Janeiro (73), and Ceará (70).

The Ministry of Labor estimates that there are more than 150,000 Brazilians working under slave-like conditions. The number of officials trained in combating slave labor is insufficient to attend to the demand. Moreover, these inspectors can face life-threatening situations.

Father and Son - Slave Labor in Brazil

Photo Credit: Blog do Mochila

On January 28, 2004, while investigating allegations of slave labor on a ranch in Unaí, Minas Gerais, four officials were assassinated. The case, known as the “Unaí Massacre,” still languishes in court. Five years later, the government designated January 28 as the National Day of Combat against Slave Labor. This annual commemoration serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle against the inhumane exploitation of the nation’s most vulnerable workers.

Brazil continues to face opposition in eradicating forced or slave labor. Those who profit from this practice not only question the legality of the Ministry of Labor’s publication of the “Laundry List,” they also seek to modify the legal definition of slave labor. The masters at contorting language to suit their purposes are busy at work.