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From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Tue Apr 24 09:15:58 2001
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001 23:21:42 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Action Jackson <unionyesman@NETSCAPE.NET>
Subject: Social Justice E-Zine #43

Bonded (slave) labor in Brazil

Social Justice, #43, 24 April 2001


Unemployed Brazilians are frequently tricked into slavery through a system of bonded labor. Agents convince them to work on isolated estates, with the promise of good wages, but once they reach the estates they are charged for the cost of the transport, their tools, food and accommodation. They are then forced to work to pay off the debt.

Despite working for 14 hours or more, six days a week, workers are often paid around US$1 a day. Those who become sick or buy additional items from the estate shop, find their debts increase. Most workers are too scared to run away due to the threats of violence from armed guards, and the remote rainforest locations.


In 1995, the Brazilian Government set up a Special Mobile Inspection Unit to carry out raids on estates where slavery was being used. Although the Unit has successfully rescued nearly 2,000 workers, the Government is not providing adequate resources to allow it to carry out its work effectively.

The Unit does not have enough staff or vehicles to cope with demand. On top of this, federal police no longer prioritize operations to combat forced labor, often holding up operations.

Delays are disastrous, as they give the estate owners time to cover their tracks. Once the Unit arrives there is no evidence of slavery, and no chance of prosecuting the guilty estate owners.


y Even when the raids are successful, it is rare that the guilty are punished. Only four arrests were made between 1996 and 2000, although 1,684 slave workers were released in this period (see case study overleaf).

In some cases, estate owners have been fined or forced to sell some of their land to the authorities. Such a system does not act as a deterrent as fines are frequently not collected and many landowners actually profit from the government purchasing their land.


Francisco Chagas Diogo accepted an offer to work on the Brasil Verde estate in Pará State so that he could earn enough money to feed his family. After working on the estate for one month he received less than $8. If he had been able to get work as a day laborer in his hometown he would have earned approximately $2 a day.

Francisco is illiterate and cannot check that the money taken from his wages actually corresponds to goods that he bought, the food he ate or days he was ill ($2.60 is deducted from workers' wages if they get sick). Armed guards prevented most workers from complaining or trying to escape. Francisco was rescued, along with 86 other workers, from these conditions of slavery in March 2000.

The Brasil Verde estate is one of six similar properties owned by the same family business group in the region and has been denounced for using slave labor successively in 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2000. Criminal proceedings opened in 1997 against the landowner, but were suspended in 1999 and, as of November 2000, have not been re-opened. This case illustrates the ineffectiveness of measures taken to date to stop the use of slave labor.


Sonya Maldar, Campaigns Officer
(44) (0)20 7501 8933