Self-regulation to fight Brazilian slavery called for

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

A 2015 study found evidence of modern-day slavery in Brazil's agriculture sector
A 2015 study found evidence of modern-day slavery in Brazil's agriculture sector

Related tags Human rights Brazil Beef Livestock Poultry

Brazil’s agribusiness industry should adopt a strategy of self-regulation to eradicate modern-day slavery, according to a United Nations agency official leading anti-slavery work in South America’s largest country.

Antônio Carlos de Mello Rosa heads the International Labour Organisation’s modern-day slavery work in Brazil and told this site agribusiness firms should implement self-regulation to fight slavery.

Historically, agriculture and cattle-raising sectors in Brazil account for the largest proportion of slave labour claims, according to Rosa who cited reports by national labour inspectors.

And after the country’s biggest meatpacker JBS faced allegations of buying cattle from a farm under investigation for labour abuse​, Mosa told this site big companies should do more.

Ending child labour

There is an important role to be played by the employers responsible for specific economic sectors where the incidence of slavery is higher. The solution is to establish and implement procedures of self-regulation and monitoring of production chains, aiming at the eradication of human rights violations, such as forced labour and child labour.​”

Alongside self-regulation, Mosa wants more labour inspectors and investment in “vulnerable communities, strengthen their capacity to generate income and create decent working opportunities.​”

Mosa supports Brazil’s government in advancing the fight against serious violations of workers human rights, but he said the scale of modern-day slavery in the country is hard to ascertain. “It is difficult to know exactly the dimension of this problem not only because it is a crime, but also due to the current lack of resources and personnel to cover all of the national territory.​”

JBS hit by slavery claims

It is a problem that has dogged the country for years. A 2015 National Household Survey found 3.3 million children aged five to 17 work in Brazil, with agriculture one of the biggest sectors, suggesting more work needs to be done. However, A US Department of Labour report from the same year claimed the country is making progress to remove the worst cases of child labour.

Brazil’s Ministry of Labour produces a blacklist of farms linked to labour abuse to help businesses avoid dealing with suppliers suspected of modern-day slavery. But JBS found out the hard way that relying solely on the blacklist can be problematic.

Earlier this month it faced allegations of buying cattle from the Ana Paula Junqueira farm in northern Brazil. JBS did buy cattle from the family farm, which was not blacklisted by the government, and ditched the supplier as soon as it became aware of what it described as “irregularities​”.

This situation highlights the need for self-regulation, according to Mosa. “It is definitely a good practice to use the blacklist as a reference to avoid making transactions with providers who exploit forced labour, but it is not sufficient. There is much more they [JBS] could do to eradicate the problem using a strategy of self-regulation.​”

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