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Brazil Frees 2,000 Slave Workers. Another 25,000 to Go.

One of the biggest challenges presently faced by organizations that fight against slave-like labor in Brazil is obtaining approval for the Constitutional Amendment bill proposal (PEC) dealing with the expropriation of properties where enslaved workers are found.

“Some of the challenges have mostly to do with operational and administrative questions, but others are related to the progress of the Constitutional Amendment proposal which deals with the expropriation of lands and is still being discussed in the National Congress,” commented the Secretary of Labor Inspection of the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE), Ruth Vilela.


Since January the MTE’s Mobile Inspection Group has managed to visit over 241 farms and free over 2,000 rural workers.


According to a survey conducted by the Catholic Church’s Land Pastoral Commission (CPT), there are still around 25 thousand workers in Brazil who are forced to perform unpaid labor.


“At this moment, the monitoring is precisely to verify whether, after the initial inspection findings, there was a recurrence or not,” Vilela explained.


Despite the difficulties, she said, since the National Plan to Combat Slave Labor was launched in 2003, the mobilization of the partners that are trying to end slave-like labor in the country’s rural areas can be considered a victory.


“The process of reorganization by our partners, in the sense of their all having a task force on this matter, greater resourcefulness in the execution of measures, and, most of all, the effectuation of these partnerships occurred in a responsible and effective manner,” she affirmed.


For the adviser at the Special Secretariat of Human Rights (SEDH), Raquel Cunha, the pressure applied by the Ministry, the Federal Police, the Public Interest Defense Ministry for Labor, and the Secretariat itself has succeeded in inhibiting the activities of some landowners.


They fear the inclusion of their names on the national register (known as the “black list”), which could cause them to forfeit their lands.


“Some have become more conscientious, while others are more frightened, because of the black list,” Cunha observed.


She recalls that, to fortify the campaign against slave-like labor, it is necessary to mobilize not just the government agencies but the partners and society, too.


Among the steps that are being implemented are prizes for personalities and organizations active in this campaign.


Sociologist Ana de Souza Pinto, “Aninha of the CPT,” who has been engaged in the battle against rural violence for over 30 years, and the Açailândia (MA) Center for the Defense of Life and Human Rights, which has devoted itself to the campaign against slave-like labor in the state’s charcoal kilns, will receive the 2004 Human Rights award from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on December 10.


“We concluded that awarding the prize [to the Açailândia Center] would not only acknowledge the job that was done but would contribute to strengthening the institution in the sense of its continuing to work in behalf of the victims of slave-like labor,” Cunha contended.


Another initiative is the II Round of Debates on Slave-like Labor, scheduled to take place on November 23-24. The purpose of this gathering is to reflect on the accomplishments and difficulties of the National Plan to Combat Slave Labor.


Agência Brasil
Translator: David Silberstein

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