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Fighting Slave Labor in Brazil

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January 28 is always remembered in Brazil as the National Day against Slave Labor. The date is actually a tribute to the four officials of the Ministry of Labor killed in 2004 during an investigative operation in the rural zone of Unaí, state of Minas Gerais. Ten years have passed and still slave labor remains in Brazil.

Since 1995, when Brazil created its system against slave labor, more than 3,000 properties have been inspected due to allegations of slave labor and more than 45,000 people have gained freedom. In 2013 alone, more than 1,500 workers were freed, most of them in urban areas.

How does Brazil define contemporary slave labor? Any kind of forced labor that restricts workers' freedom. The person is obliged to provide a service without or with an insufficient remuneration, having to pay for food, housing and other personal expenses directly to the employer, generating debts that they cannot pay with their salaries. Furthermore, labor relations are marked by conflict, coercion and threats, and working conditions are extremely precarious. Thus, slave labor is the most serious form of exploitation, and it is not only a threat against the fundamental principles and rights at work, but also confronts the most basic human rights.

In Brazil, this concept has been present on the Penal Code since 1940, and was revised in 2003 to be further strengthened. Although no arrests have been made so far, much has been achieved. Currently there is a constitutional amendment project in Congress to expropriate lands from farmers who are caught using slave labor. Congress has been discussing this bill since 2005. Such delay shows that some economic groups are resistant and still legitimize this practice.

On the other hand, it is possible to say that the Brazilian government actually recognized the existence of this problem in 1995, when the federal government created the Mobile Inspection Special Group, under the Ministry of Labor. Since 2003, national plans for the eradication of slave labor have been created, enabling greater coordination between government agencies and civil society to address the problem.

Recently, the Global Slavery Index 2013 report, published by Walk Free Foundation, puts Brazil in 94th place among 192 assessed countries. According to the study, the country has between 170,000 to 217,000 people in slave-like situations.

However, the same report praises Brazil for presenting good practices, like the "laundry list" of slave labor. Released by the federal government, this public list includes the names and information of all companies and farms caught with slave labor. Companies and government often consult this list for due diligence or to terminate contracts.

The private sector has a crucial role in combating slave labor. The National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labor, launched in 2005, is evidence of that business mobilization.

Besides economically restricting employers who commit this crime, the Pact aims to support actions to promote decent work all over the supply chain, the social reintegration of workers in vulnerable situations and to organize information campaigns about the issue.

The Pact was born after research conducted by the NGO 'Reporter Brasil' at the request of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which aimed to demonstrate the degree of integration of goods produced with slave labor into the global economy. They have identified problems in various production chains such as livestock, charcoal, soy, timber, sugarcane and rice.

Brazilian business played a key role in this process via the Ethos Institute inviting both Brazilian and multinational companies from these sectors to discuss what to do with this issue. The proposal was to create a set of voluntary commitments to create mechanisms and methodologies that would block suppliers caught with slave labor, among other measures. This would isolate these suppliers from the market, forcing them to review their practices and change their behavior. From these dialogues, the National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labor was created, which now has over 400 signatories, including companies, trade associations and civil society organizations, an equivalent to more than 30 percent of Brazilian GDP.

In order to expand the results of the Pact, Ethos Institute and the signatories helped to create a new organization, called InPacto -- the Institute of the National Pact. Perhaps this is one of the most innovative initiatives, since its board includes people from companies and civil society organizations.

Brazilian efforts to eradicate slave labor are considered an international reference, but still there is a long way to definitively end this problem. The Pact delivered some creative ways to do so and now, through the new institute, we hope to strengthen this struggle and contribute to other global initiatives.

This blog was produced by The Huffington Post, the Ethos Institute and The B Team to mark the anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse. For more information about The Ethos Institute, please visit here. To acknowledge the tragedy, The B Team released this statement.