Slavery in 2020? Since 2003, more 3,000 cases of people working in conditions analogous to slavery were discovered in Brazil; in Bahia, 21 were recently rescued
Bahia had 21 people rescued from slave labor in 2019
By Marques Travae
Of course, the issue of slavery will always be a sore spot in Brazil’s history. And for good reason. The country was the recipient of the largest number of enslaved Africans in the Americas, with estimates that range from 4-5 million African bodies entering Brazilian land between the 16th and 19th centuries. To put this into context, the United States received about 380,000 enslaved Africans. You read right. Brazil brought in anywhere from 10-13 times more Africans than the United States! Brazil exploited the most African labor, the life span of that African was shorter than his “cousin” in the US and slavery lasted longer in Brazil than in the US (1538-1888 vs. 1619-1865). In fact, Brazil was the last country in the Americas end this regime (1888).
The relationship between master and slave, dominant vs. dominated laid the ground work for race-based relations in Brazil to this day with all of the positive attributes of human beings being bestowed upon whites and near whites, while people of visible African ancestry are still learning to accept their blackness today in 2020 due to endless denigrations of blackness endemic to the society since the 16th century.
As slavery was officially abolished in 1888, this ugly stain on Brazilian history effectively came to an end, right? Well, not exactly. It’s a dirty little secret that you don’t hear much about, but treating human beings in conditions analogous to slavery is still going on in Brazilian territory today.
In 2019 alone, in the state of Bahia, the state most associated with black Brazilians and culture, 21 people were rescued from work conditions similar to that of slavery. This information is courtesy of the Public Ministry of Labor in Bahia (MPT). Of the 21 that were rescued, nine of them were Venezuelans, most likely due to the flow of immigrants from that South American neighbor in recent years.
Still according to data from the agency, Bahia is the fifth state with the largest number of workers working and treated, in all and intents and purpose, as slaves since 2003. In this 16- year period, 3,270 cases were registered. In 2019, six inspections ended with the configuration of work conditions analogous to slave labor, five being in rural areas with one in an urban setting.
Agriculture was the economic activity that was found to have the highest incidence of slave labor, more than 2,500 workers having been liberated from this condition in a near 20-year period. But it was in the South region of the country where cocoa production strives that had the highest incidents of people living and working in conditions of slavery in 2019.
45 rescue missions were carried out across the country in 2019, with more than one thousand workers being rescued. In 70% of these missions, workers were liberated, a higher percentage than in 2018, when 48% ended with rescues.
“On January 28, the National Day to Combat Slave Labor, we will draw the attention of society to the existence of this social wound that is slave labor, and to the need to eradicate this type of practice,” said the labor prosecutor Manuella Gedeon. Gedeon is the regional coordinator for combating slave labor in Bahia’s branch of the MPT.
“We will only be able to eradicate this evil with efficient public policies, not only to repress exploiters but also to raise awareness among consumers of products that use slave labor,” said the prosecutor.
In October of last year, the Federal Government compiled and released a list of employers who were guilty of exploiting slave labor, a group referred to as the ”dirty list” of slave labor. Another 14 employers based in the state of Bahia were part of this list (7.4 of the country’s total). All included on the dirty list were found to be exploiting workers and exploiting in degrading conditions and had this administrative procedure evaluated by the Ministry of Economy’s Labor Inspection Secretariat and completed before the list was published.
The dirty list is one of the mechanisms in which pressure was applied to companies and individuals who exploited work in a manner that was considered slave labor, releasing their names and impeding them from carrying out a series of credit and contracting operations with state agencies and companies.
Measures to combat slave labor in the state of Bahia were carried out by the State Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor – Coetrae Bahia, and by the articulation group for the Eradication of Slave Labor in Bahia (Gaete).
Coetrae Bahia is a joint venture consisting of federal, state, and civil entities. Together they take preventive measures to prevent and combat the usage of slave labor. Based on denouncements and their own monitoring activities, these agencies were able to establish possible areas in which employees working in slave-like conditions were being used, setting up operations to monitor these locations and their activities. The investigations made use of a wide range of public agents with of police backup to ensure the safety of prosecutors, public defenders, and labor inspectors that acted in operations to liberate as many as these employees as possible.