The major steel mills that operate in the North of Brazil signed a commitment
to eradicate the use of slave-like labor in charcoal production. Fifteen companies
represented by the Carajás Steel Mill Association (Asica) committed
themselves to the imposition of commercial restrictions on suppliers who exploit
Ratification of the agreement
is part of the agenda of National Citizenship and Solidarity Week. The document
acknowledges that degrading conditions still exist at the bottom of the chain,
leaving a large number of workers helpless.
Together with iron ore,
charcoal is one of the main raw materials that go into the making of pig iron,
used mostly for the production of steel, which is exported to developed countries.
The charcoal comes from ovens that burn wood from native forests. This is
the stage in the productive chain where slave-like labor is employed.
"Most of the workers
have to put in a huge work day, from 10 to 14 hours, without any safety equipment,
such as gloves and boots. They work without signed papers, medical care, or
"The food is awful,
and the system of transportation from one municipality to another is extremely
precarious; it is what is worst in terms of existing forms of labor,"
observed the director of the Social Observatory Institute, Odilon Faccio.
The organization did a
survey of the situation of slave-like labor in the steel production chain.
demonstrates a concern and a commitment by this sector to Brazilian society.
It is an initiative worthy of total respect," said the coordinator of
the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Project to Combat Slave Labor,
According to Audi, there
are still around 25 thousand people working under slave-like conditions in
Brazil. "Contemporary slavery is different from traditional slavery,
because slavery nowadays is not based on color or race," she emphasized.
She recounted that the workers are recruited in the country's poorest municipalities
and are taken to work in distant rural properties. Because they have to pay
their employers for their travel, clothing, food, and housing, they are unable
to free themselves from debt to leave. Since most of these rural properties
are very far away from the municipalities where these workers come from, they
cannot escape, because they lack money for the trip. There are also armed
thugs to prevent these workers from fleeing.
It is now possible to
report human rights violations on a toll-free number, just dial 100 anytime;
it is a 24/7 service. The announcement of the hotline was made during the
IX National Conference on Human Rights which took place in the Chamber of
Deputies, in early July.
At the moment the service
is available only in the Federal District (Brasilia) but it will soon be extended
throughout the country. When it is fully operational, the service will be
able to handle up to 60,000 calls daily.
With the Call Human Rights
(Disque-Direitos Humanos) the government intends to centralize complaints
about torture, slave labor and sexual exploitation of youths.
According to Minister
Nilmario Miranda, who heads the Human Rights Secretariat, all complaints received
will be dealt with. Miranda says the service will assist victims and protect
It will also provide authorities
with an overview of violence, permitting them to make plans and formulate
policies to promote and protect human rights in Brazil.
At the end of May, the
mayor of Unaí (Minas Gerais), José Braz da Silva, owner of an
estate in Canaã dos Carajás, in the state of Pará, was
convicted of maintaining workers in slave-like conditions on his property.
The conviction resulted from a public civil suit filed by the Public Labor
Prosecutor's Office (MPT).
The sentence, signed by
Judge Tereza Cristina de Almeida Cavalcante Aranha, ordered the mayor's fiscal
and bank privacy suspended, his possessions frozen, and US$ 93,000 (280,000
reais) blocked to pay indemnity for collective moral damage.
Aranha judged valid the
petitions presented by the MPT in their case and confirmed the preliminary
order and anticipated guardianship. In the case of failure to comply with
the positive and negative injunctions, a fine of US$ 1,600 (5,000 reais) was
stipulated for each infraction and each employee found to be in an irregular
The court commanded the
mayor to refrain from practicing any act "that amounts to coercion, fraud,
misrepresentation, or deceit, in the sense of compelling workers he maintains
or comes to maintain on his property to use the warehouse, general store,
or services provided by the estate in ways that impose undue burdens."
Silva is also obliged
to respect all workers rights determined by law, including the registration
of his employees' labor contracts, and to provide adequate conditions of employment,
hygiene, safety, and job-related medical care.
During a visit to the
Boa Esperança ("Good Hope") estate in December, 2002, the
Special Mobile Inspection Group discovered deceitful labor recruiting practices,
uninhabitable lodgings, payment of salaries in the form of alcoholic beverages
or harmful drugs, and indebtedness on the part of workers, who were required
to buy tools and food on the estate for prices higher than those charged in
Juliana Andrade works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press
agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.