Contemporary Slavery in Brazil a Sad Reality

After responding to an anonymous claim filed last August, the Federal Police identified 14 individuals held as slaves at a farm in Brazil’s western state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The victims, natives to various northeastern states of the country, had travelled to Mato Grosso do Sul in response to attractive job offers and better lives.  Instead, they met slavery and abuse. They were subject to extremely poor living conditions and they lacked employment contracts, which left their rights fully vulnerable.  They worked 13-hour shifts for three entire months, without pay. Having no other option but to buy their food and basic goods for credit at the farm’s shop, they accumulated unintended and unmanageable debts, which empowered the farm owner to prevent the workers from leaving the farm’s premises.

Housing made of wood and canvas

Also, in the city of Sao Paulo an immigrant from Bolivia was recently arrested for subjecting six fellow immigrants into slavery. The suspect owned a sewing shop where people worked 15-hour shifts and were grossly underpaid.  Employees were made subject to conditions terribly unsuitable for dignified work.  Like in the case from Mato Grosso do Sul, the Bolivian employees had no employment contract and were kept unaware of their most basic employment rights.

According to the UN, in 2008 there were up to 40,000 contemporary slave laborers in Brazil. Workers are generally young men recruited from a state characterized by extreme poverty, illiteracy and rural unemployment.

The report of the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery explains that the vast majority of workers in slave labor are in debt bondage. They are laborers from very poor areas of the country’s northeast region, who are enticed to work in distant towns in return for an advance on their wages and promises of attractive salaries. The workers are recruited by verbal contract, and taken by bus to plantations and ranches, usually located in another state of Brazil. Once they arrive, they are told that they have to pay back any advance given and pay for their transport, food and accommodation. The attractive salaries promised to workers are reduced, and their salaries rarely cover their costs. Workers become indebted to their employers from the outset. They usually do not have any access to information about how their debt is calculated, nor do they receive their wages in cash. In some cases, the workers become more and more indebted, since they have to buy everything they need at inflated prices from the estate shop. Workers’ debts increase to such an extent that they can never be paid off; the workers are thus forced to continue working.

Aware of this problem, in 2003 the federal government created the National Commission for Eradication of Slavery Labor. Although progress has been made nationally, the persistence of this international crime is unacceptable.  The situation becomes even more worrisome, when we consider the country’s aspirations to be a regional socio-economic leader. To meet its obligation as leaders, Brazilian authorities should demonstrate that the nation cares for the lives and wellbeing of its citizens and immigrants by ending the impunity of slavery and forced labor, both of which are considered crimes against humanity under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, of which Brazil is a member.

The solution for these terrible crimes relies in combating poverty. The government, however, should go beyond social programs such as “Bolsa Familia” and provide comprehensive and sustainable programs to ensure that those most vulnerable to slavery enjoy basic human rights, such as food, water, health and education. The government should also promote programs to educate rescued workers and communities whose members are likely to end up in slave labor about the importance of having employment contracts to have their rights enforced. Only with concrete and practical projects that put an end to impunity, Brazilian authorities can eliminate this shameless practice in our country.

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14 thoughts on “Contemporary Slavery in Brazil a Sad Reality

  1. All people here knew it and even the justice knwe it, but the owner of the farm is a rich one with great connections with the federal govermnent of Brazil, so nothing was made because of corruption and lack of Ethics in politics here. We people of Brasil are still waiting the fit punition to this slavery..

  2. Goverment created the National comission of erradication of Slavery to give an answer to international pression only, but untill nowadays only little is made.

    And the slavery hiden in São PAulo city where many illegals Bolivians works as slaves for another bolivian too, working more than 16 hours per day and in the worst conditions is to make clothes that are sold in big magazines of biggest shopping centers.

    The big empresaries, the government, the politicians, the buyers, all take advantage of it, so all do blind eyes toward this illegal slavery.

    The guilty is of the federal government that put high taxes even to the great empresaries, turning very expensive to have a functionary in legal conditions. And what government do with this taxes we pay? Anyone can see it, because security, public health, public schools, public hospitals, they are all in bad shape, in bad conditions.

    Where goes the money paid in taxes? This is what gives stimulous to illegal slavery.

  3. All people here knew it and even the justice knwe it, but the owner of the farm is a rich one with great connections with the federal govermnent of Brazil, so nothing was made because of corruption and lack of Ethics in politics here. We people of Brasil are still waiting the fit punition to this slavery..

  4. Goverment created the National comission of erradication of Slavery to give an answer to international pression only, but untill nowadays only little is made.

    And the slavery hiden in São PAulo city where many illegals Bolivians works as slaves for another bolivian too, working more than 16 hours per day and in the worst conditions is to make clothes that are sold in big magazines of biggest shopping centers.

    The big empresaries, the government, the politicians, the buyers, all take advantage of it, so all do blind eyes toward this illegal slavery.

    The guilty is of the federal government that put high taxes even to the great empresaries, turning very expensive to have a functionary in legal conditions. And what government do with this taxes we pay? Anyone can see it, because security, public health, public schools, public hospitals, they are all in bad shape, in bad conditions.

    Where goes the money paid in taxes? This is what gives stimulous to illegal slavery.

  5. Bolivians laboring as slaves in brasil ?

    Ahh, how many holes & tunnels of slavery are hidden away in south america !!

    Adriana, you make me understand !

  6. Bolivians laboring as slaves in brasil ?

    Ahh, how many holes & tunnels of slavery are hidden away in south america !!

    Adriana, you make me understand !

  7. The worst of all is finding out that the owner of these lands are, probably, closely connected with politics. The impunity has a reason to keep happening over and over again: most of the slave's owner are related, directely or indirectly, with politicians. I've read a case that a prefect was found involved in contemporary slavery in Brazil. And he didn't even went to jail.

    I am ashamed to see my country's pretending that are combating the atrocity to the internacional authorities, when, inside we barely admit the existence of exploitation. As we normally say in Brazil: Laws for british to see.

    We have good things happening thanks to the NGOs that press hard our government. And example of that is the Dirty List, were everyone involved in slavery (mostly farmer and company owners) are mentioned on the list. And it causes a lot of implications on their lives. It's a little thing, but i guess it's better than nothing.

    We should keep working to help our citizens… that's the only way we will be able to erradicate this repugnant practice.

  8. The worst of all is finding out that the owner of these lands are, probably, closely connected with politics. The impunity has a reason to keep happening over and over again: most of the slave’s owner are related, directely or indirectly, with politicians. I’ve read a case that a prefect was found involved in contemporary slavery in Brazil. And he didn’t even went to jail.

    I am ashamed to see my country’s pretending that are combating the atrocity to the internacional authorities, when, inside we barely admit the existence of exploitation. As we normally say in Brazil: Laws for british to see.

    We have good things happening thanks to the NGOs that press hard our government. And example of that is the Dirty List, were everyone involved in slavery (mostly farmer and company owners) are mentioned on the list. And it causes a lot of implications on their lives. It’s a little thing, but i guess it’s better than nothing.

    We should keep working to help our citizens… that’s the only way we will be able to erradicate this repugnant practice.

  9. Yes, I remember learning about it back when I was in 6th grade, back in Brazil. It's so sad. Reminds me of Feudalism. I'm not sure in this case what can be done though. Can someone educate us? Yes, investing in education for current and future generations is imperative, but what in the meantime? Generally, these farms are located in places of very difficult access and even more difficult conditions to enforce laws. People are bribed, and as long as they can have some money to buy an extra loaf of bread for their own empoverished families, and their safety (temporarily, as it may be) is ensured, they don't care. Or perhaps they do, but they have their own selves and families as priorities, and to a degree, it's understandable. They don't know better. Politicians only care about looking good mainly during elections, and this doesn't get much media attention (at all) so not many people even know about it. Besides, it is astonishing how they seem to be so skilled in making people shut up. I remember growing up how often I saw news of people who started speaking up and were brutally murdered. Tell us, what CAN we do? I'll be happy to oblige. I don't want my kids to not have hope that a better world is possible.

  10. Yes, I remember learning about it back when I was in 6th grade, back in Brazil. It’s so sad. Reminds me of Feudalism. I’m not sure in this case what can be done though. Can someone educate us? Yes, investing in education for current and future generations is imperative, but what in the meantime? Generally, these farms are located in places of very difficult access and even more difficult conditions to enforce laws. People are bribed, and as long as they can have some money to buy an extra loaf of bread for their own empoverished families, and their safety (temporarily, as it may be) is ensured, they don’t care. Or perhaps they do, but they have their own selves and families as priorities, and to a degree, it’s understandable. They don’t know better. Politicians only care about looking good mainly during elections, and this doesn’t get much media attention (at all) so not many people even know about it. Besides, it is astonishing how they seem to be so skilled in making people shut up. I remember growing up how often I saw news of people who started speaking up and were brutally murdered. Tell us, what CAN we do? I’ll be happy to oblige. I don’t want my kids to not have hope that a better world is possible.

  11. They do the mexican produce pickers the same way sometimes.And keep women as sex slaves for the workers.What the heck,if it can be done in America it,then it must be good.

  12. They do the mexican produce pickers the same way sometimes.And keep women as sex slaves for the workers.What the heck,if it can be done in America it,then it must be good.