Brazil was the last country in the West to abolish slavery, waiting until 1888 to do so. The process of eradicating forced labor was so haphazard and superficial that a social cleavage was created in Brazilian society. The freed slaves were left to fend for themselves, without reparation, education, or even shelter, leading to a destitute, black underclass which today—over 130 years after abolition—has yet to fully integrate with the rest of society.
Even slave labor has not been properly eradicated in Brazil, and there are still thousands of workers in conditions of modern slavery all over the country and in all sorts of sectors.
Modern slavery, in Brazil and around the world, takes various forms. One of the most pressing types is child labor, as it is seen as the biggest gateway into adult slavery. Debt bondage, meanwhile is the most common face of modern slavery around Brazil. Also known as peonage or bonded labor, these are situations in which workers incur debt with their employers for food, equipment, clothes or lodging, and are then “forced” to continue providing labor to pay off what is an unpayable debt.
In Brazil, the majority of modern slaves are found working on farms, ranching cattle or cultivating rice. However, these practices are seen in a number of different sectors, such as textile factories or domestic work.
Since 1995, 53,000 workers have been rescued from slave-like conditions by labor inspectors. The biggest year for such operations was 2007, when over 6,000 people were freed from their illegal labor bonds and received compensation from the government. Promising signs were seen earlier this decade, as the number of workers needing rescue dropped year on year until reaching only 647 in 2017. Hopes that modern slavery was becoming less common were premature, however, as the number of workers found in these conditions tripled in 2018.
“Precisão:” how modern slavery works in Brazil
The Brazilian Report‘s editor-in-chief Gustavo collaborated as the scriptwriter for the documentary “Precisão,” directed by Juliano Bacelar. Released today, the film shows the desperate conditions of people forced into modern slavery around Brazil, where workers are, in many cases, “treated worse than cattle.”
The name of the film, precisão, comes from a word used in rural Brazil to describe “dire need”—which is what pushes the men and women heard for this movie into modern slavery (in some cases, multiple times).