The Islamic Post Blog

Brazil Takes Firm Action to Thwart Forced Labor by Khalida
February 2, 2009, 11:08 am
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, Latino/Caribe | Tags:

Special Task Force Fighting Big Business Cartels to Free Victims of Debt Bondage

By Raheemah Atif

Islamic Post Staff Writer

Thousands of human beings are entrenched in the deplorable business of virtual “slave labor” worldwide. In the South American nation of Brazil, the United Nations International Labor Organization estimated that in 2003 ( the most recent year in which statistics were complied), between 25,000 and 40,000 Brazilians were being held under this criminally oppressive system.
In an interview with CNN, Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy center commented, “Slavery is the tail end of a lot of abuse of poor people and workers in Brazil; bad treatment reaches over to abusive treatment, to treatment that becomes virtual slavery.”
Various human rights organizations, in conjunction with the Brazilian government, have built a special task force that has freed 5,223 “ slave laborers” who were discovered virtually marooned on large farms, plantations, and businesses located deep in rural and deforested areas.  Escape from these forced labor camps is practically impossible.  Anti-slavery International (AI), a human rights group based in the U.K., explains the sordid scenario wherein unsuspecting individuals are lured into the deceptive “employment” agreement.
Unscrupulous recruiters scour the slums and economically depressed areas of Brazil – which is roughly the size of the United States – looking for willing individuals who agree to travel to a distant site to work for inflated wages.  Once separated from any support or contact with family or friends, the workers are told they owe money for transportation, food, housing, etc.  “This is known as debt bondage, which also fits official definitions of slavery,” says Anti-slavery International, “A person is in debt bondage when their labor is demanded as the means of repayment for a loan or an advance. Once in debt, they lose all control over their conditions of work and what, if anything they are paid … often making it impossible to repay and trapping them in a cycle of debt.”
Regulation of the industries that perpetrate the criminal conditions under which these victims suffer has been difficult, in part due to the vastness of Brazil itself.  Anti-slavery International reports that the greatest number of slave labor camps are run by the cattle ranching industry and sugar cane plantations (43%), followed by deforestation operations (28%), and agriculture (24%). The charcoal production and logging industries also run slave labor camps within the deep interior of the country. Brazil is being applauded on its successful efforts to curtail and eliminate slave labor in their country, while AI has estimated that there are more than 12 million people worldwide being held captive in forced labor situations with a much more dismal outlook for rescue. “Forced labor exists in Sudan, Nepal, India, Mauritania as well as many wealthier countries (including the UK), where vulnerable people are trafficked into forced labor or sexual slavery,” the group says. “A similar situation to the use of forced labor on estates in Brazil can be found in the Chaco region of both Paraguay and Bolivia”
The Brazilian Special Mobile Inspection Group is comprised of attorneys from the federal labor prosecution department, labor inspectors, and federal police, who often conduct worksite raids at remote labor camps searching for abuses and workers being held against their will.  In 2007, nearly 6,000 people were freed by the task force.  Labor Minister Carlos Lupi commented to the Brazilian-run state news agency that his country will be stepping up its antislavery operations in 2009.  Part and parcel of the campaign is the elimination of a primary factor in the vulnerability of  forced labor victims – the conditions of abject poverty so prevalent in Brazil, and other countries who are combating the same criminal oppression of its people.  A recent survey conducted by  the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s Center for Social Policy Studies found that one of every four Brazilians live in dire poverty. The Web-based Index Mundi, which says it obtains its figures from the CIA World Factbook, estimates the poverty rate could be as high as one of every three Brazilians; with a population approaching 200 million people, that means at least 49 million Brazilians live under squalid economic conditions.  For the most part, the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has done much to reduce poverty and fight slave labor, with one governmental sanction requiring that lands on which slave labor camps are operated are subject to confiscation.  The politically powerful natural resource cartels are fighting hard against the pressure of the Brazilian government and other agencies who are determined to continue waging the protracted battle against the crime of forced labor.  Vigilance and legal action are the primary weapons being utilized to protect and maintain the right of the people to be free from oppression and coercion – and the struggle continues. “Brazil is a big, huge country and there are lots of poor people,” said Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue. “The farther you get away from the populated, industrialized areas, you’ll find large populations of people who do whatever they can to make a living.”


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