In early October 2023, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) organized and hosted a three-day technical workshop for labor inspectors in Brasília. The focus of the workshop was to build the skillset of labor inspectors to monitor cases of forced labor across the country. Attended by more than 130 labor inspectors, the workshop focused on forced labor that is widespread in Brazil’s beef supply chain. The event was in partnership with the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and the Secretaria de Inspeção do Trabalho do Ministério do Trabalho e Emprego do Brazil (English, Secretariat of Labor Inspection of the Ministry of Labor and Employment of Brazil). With funding by the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the event was hosted through ABA ROLI and PADF’s joint program, Combating Forced Labor in Pará, Brazil.
Launched in July 2022, this two-year program was ABA ROLI’s first program focused solely on Brazil. In Brazil, forced labor (FL) cases are often concentrated in rural areas, and according to official statistics, the northern state of Pará had the highest annual average of FL victims across all industries from 1995 to 2020. To define forced labor, it involves individuals being pressured to work against their will through violent or intimidating actions. It can include subtle means like accumulating debt, holding onto identification papers, or threatening to report them to immigration authorities. Most commonly, FL victims are recruited from poorer neighboring states by “gatos” or employers, who promise advance payment and free transportation to a work site that can be miles away from their homes or across state lines.
Once recruited, FL victims are moved to remote locations where they are kept from leaving and subjected to poor working conditions and debt bondage - one of the most common types of forced labor mechanisms in Brazil. Poor working conditions can include no access to restrooms and bathing facilities, as well as inadequate clean water or protective gear. FL victims quickly find themselves in a fraudulent debt cycle with their employers, “gatos”, in which they must pay for their transportation, food, housing, and tools. However, their low pay is often not enough to pay off their debt, leaving them trapped in debt bondage. Through this program in Pará, ABA ROLI is responding to complex forced labor cases, specifically in the labor intense industry of cattle ranching. Brazil's beef industry has been plagued by the issue of slave labor for decades, which has been acknowledged by the international community.
On the first day of the workshop, October 3rd, Lívia Mendes Moreira Miraglia, coordinator of the Clínica de Trabalho Escravo e Tráfico de Pessoas da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais – UFMG (English, Clinic of Forced Labor and Human Trafficking at the Federal University of Minas Gerais) opened the event, explaining the labor inspectors' responsibilities in supply chains. Supply chains complicate the issue of catching instances of FL, for example a significant part of the cases of FL in livestock does not occur on farms that supply animals directly for butchering or meatpacking, but rather on those further down the supply chain which transfer cattle to be fattened at other properties. Labor inspectors also face challenges due to limited resources and personnel, making it difficult to conduct fieldwork and rescue victims of FL. Inspectors must detect and organize responses to those conducting FL, an issue complicated by the layers of the supply chain.
On October 4th, Thiago Raso Leite and Beatriz Montanhana (both labor inspectors) shared examples of cases of forced labor that occurred in Brazil, which led to small group discussions about shared experiences. Later that day, Diogo Otávio Scalia Pereira and Cristiano da Cunha Duarte (both from Brazil’s Federal Police) spoke about the relationship between deforestation and forced labor. Farmers will use victims of FL to clear land for cattle, build fences and cattle sheds with timber that was taken illegally. Labor abuse serves as a foundation for the deforestation throughout the Brazilian Amazon, a destructive relationship for both victims of FL and the environment. Givanildo dos Santos Lima from the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis - IBAMA (English, Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) presented some mechanisms of intelligence to find deforestation in Pará (state of Brazil). The IBAMA serves under Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment. The IBAMA has the power to place fines on offenders, ban farming in deforested areas, and destroy expensive equipment used in illegal logging. Mechanisms include information from Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (English, National Institute for Space Research), which has resources to detect deforestation through satellite data and monitoring, among other technologies.
The final day included discussions about themes found in the fight against slave labor, such as human trafficking, housework, and work and sexual exploitation. The four-day training served to strengthen the knowledge and skillset of the labor inspectors in attendance, furthering the Program’s efforts to equip local actors with the tools they need to make sustainable interventions for forced labor victims in Brazil, particularly those in rural areas such as the state of Pará.
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean.
This article was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.