Modern-day slavery in Brazil is very different to the kind practised during the colonial era. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery and today it takes place mostly in the Amazon, where illegal farms are created at the expense of the fallen rainforest.
Slavery in Brazil is no longer directly associated with the colour of skin, but to poverty and lack of opportunity. Today’s chains are subtler. It’s done via a fraudulent debt, used as an excuse to keep workers in the farm while they “owe” money to the farmer.
They are forced to buy everything, from tools to food, from the farmer’s shop, with inflated prices. The debt is never cleared and the workers are effectively trapped. Often these unscrupulous farmers make use of intimidation and violence to discourage workers from running away. And the sheer distance between these remote farms and the nearest human settlement works as a real barrier against free movement.
The Brazilian Ministry of Labour keeps a team of inspectors to raid farms that have been accused of exploring workers under slavery conditions. Heavily armed policemen storm those properties without notice. If confirmed, the workers are freed; the farmers, who will then face the law, are forced to pay the workers’ wages. But impunity and corruption have made several cases of slavery never be brought to justice at all, powerful businessmen and politicians still benefit from it and thousands of destitute workers are being deprived of their basic rights. Their families never know their whereabouts and they spend their lives locked in cycles of debt-bondage and misery.
(Eduardo Martino | Modern-day Slavery in Brazil PRIVATE 53 – Hope, pages 14-19)