In my January 2012 blog, Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest: Grounds for corruption and debate, I wrote about the continued reports coming out of Brazil on deforestation in the Amazon and its link to illegal charcoal camps. As a follow up, I would like to spotlight the issue of modern day slavery in the Amazon and Brazil’s recent approval of a constitutional amendment, passed last month, which strengthens the punishment for landowners and others who force people into slave labor.
Although conditions and wages for most Brazilian workers have improved over the last decade, the issue of exploitation of workers is all too common in many parts of Brazil with many poor laborers exposed to brutal working conditions across the Amazon region. Often the case, workers are lured and promised work and then placed in remote, unfamiliar areas and faced with harsh conditions they cannot escape from. With little to no pay and “debts” to pay off for their room and board, many cannot afford the journey back to home.
Last month the Brazilian Congress approved the Proposal of Constitutional Amendment Number 438 (PEC 438) to combat slave labor which is most common in remote farms but also occurs in urban sweatshops in places like Sao Paulo - South America’s largest city. Until recently, landowners who were found using slave labor would be fined but these penalties would often go unpaid- lost in the complex Brazilian legal system. However, this latest constitutional amendment allows the government to confiscate property (without compensation) and subject offenders to fines and jail terms of up to eight years. The passing of this latest constitutional amendment comes just before the Rio+20 Summit which aims to address a new set of sustainable development goals since the last meeting in 1992.
Furthermore, in 2004 the Brazilian Ministry of Labor created the “Lista Suja” (‘dirty list’) which publically exposes names of employers (persons or legal entities) caught using slave labor. The list is updated every six months and has serious financial consequences such as denial of credit from banks and other services to listed individuals and companies. According to the latest 2011 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report for Brazil, at year’s end the ‘dirty list’ contained 294 names of employers found responsible for urban and rural slavery – up from 220 at the end of 2010.
With the passing of this most recent amendment and the country’s ongoing ‘dirty list’, traceability and labor issues continue to be key topics of discussion in Brazil and will continue to do so given the Rio+20 conference taking place there this month. Brands in particular will want to ensure their labor force in their supply chain complies with local labor laws and company standards. For more information on training services offered by UL RS surrounding the issue of slavery and human trafficking, please contact Susan Gebauer at Susanne.Gebauer@ul.com.