In Brazil, beginning this week, the searches for enslaved laborers in the states of Pará and Maranhão will be stepped up. Marcelo Gonçalves, coordinator of the Ministry of Labor’s special mobile inspection group, believes that the death of four workers in an accident in Rondon, in Pará, demonstrates the necessity of making the inspections even more rapid and permanent.
According to Gonçalves, the workers belonged to a group maintained in slave-like conditions on three properties where charcoal is produced.
The alleged recruiter of the workers, Sérgio Venturini, attempted to remove them from the locale before the arrival of the Special Mobile Inspection Group.
One of the trucks, transporting 14 people, turned over during the escape. The driver, two workers, and the wife of one of them didn’t survive their injuries. The other victims were hospitalized and are doing well.
Between 1995 and 2003, Pará was the state in which the largest number of slave-like laborers were freed””around 4.6 thousand. Maranhão occupied fourth place, with 624 people discovered working in slave-like conditions.
The major steel mills that operate in the North of Brazil signed a commitment, earlier this month, to erradicate 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 slave-like labor.
Ratification of the agreement was 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 social security.
“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.
“This initiative 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, Patrícia Audi.
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.