Forced labour, an exhausting working routine, degrading conditions, and debt servitude are some of the characteristics of what is termed modern-day slavery. In the last five years alone, Brazil’s labour prosecutors received over 6000 reports linked to slave-like labour, enticement, and traffic of workers.
According to Italvar Medina, national vice-coordinator for efforts against slave labour and traffic of workers (CONAETE), a department within the Prosecution Service for Labour, last year alone over 900 workers were rescued from slavery-like working conditions. Most of the situations took place in rural environments, especially in activities linked to coffee, charcoal production and storing, as well as planting and harvesting onion.
Victims of present-day slave-like labour are highly socially vulnerable people with little education and few job opportunities, who are little aware of their rights. They are lured by great working conditions and remuneration, and are often made to leave their home states. Upon arrival, they realize the situation is far from what had been promised.
70 percent of those rescued are brown or black, which is telling of the structural racism in the country, as skin color today reflects that of slaves in former days. Most are men with very little schooling. Minas Gerais is the state with most cases of slavery-like work.
Modern-day slavery also deprives workers from basic rights like drinking water, food, hygiene, and decent working conditions. The situations witnessed by an official at the Prosecution Service for Labor who worked in a number of inquiries, is bleak. In one of them, in 2019, workers were lodged in makeshift shacks with tarpaulin and tree branches. There was no lighting, and wooden structures set on the ground had to work as beds. Since there was no bathroom, workers had to go to the woods outdoors. The water used for consumption, showering, and preparing foods was collected from a nearby stream and brought lubricant gallons. It was turbid and murky. Furthermore, due to the lack of electric energy, the meat was hung on a clothesline to dry, and often risked contamination.