Slavery in Brazil

In this early part of the 21st century, it’s surprising to discover that slavery still exists in Brazil. It was the last country to abolish slavery and was also the first country that introduced slavery to the South American continent. From 1550 to 1880, about 4 million slaves were brought in from Africa.

According to current estimates, at least 25,000 workers - mostly from the Nordeste (north-eastern province of Brazil), are enslaved every year. This number is hard to evaluate and is probably much higher.

Contemporary slavery is most common in the agricultural sector, as well as in wood, wood-coal production and livestock farming industries, which are centred mostly in the central-west and northern parts of the country.

Moreover, the areas where these activities are concentrated (and slavery along with it) correspond directly with areas of deforestation of the Amazon forest. This is most likely due to the fact that deforestation is often illegal, so the people in charge tend to "hire" slave workers.

On the other hand, soy production in Brazil requires much more machinery and skilled workers, and is thus less prone to hiring slaves. As for sugar production, while it does include a small percentage of Brazil's slaves, it is not very significant because even if the work conditions are extreme, it's harder to control workers in these massive sugar cane fields.

Now, obviously the recruiting of workers is not comparable to the traditional image of slave trading; today the business is much more subtle. Usually it works in this manner:

A recruiter offers an appealingly good salary to extremely poor and illiterate workers. They accept, since job offers are rare for them. The recruiter then brings them to remote regions that are difficult to access. Their papers are confiscated, and the work proves incomparably more exhausting than what was offered. And the pay is incomparably lower too. It then begins to resemble exploitation.

On top of that, they can only buy their food at excessively high prices in shops owned and controlled by their employers.

This is usually how they enter the vicious cycle of debt. Each month they are paid about 10 reais - about 7 US dollars. And even those who are physically able to escape (e.g. those in not-so-remote regions) will not even try to do so in fear of retaliation towards their families. The trap is set.

In the last decade, only 25,000 slaves were freed, while at least 25,000 are added each year.


Comments for Slavery in Brazil

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Mar 25, 2012
by: Dario

Awesome post, it's giving me wild ideas for a documentary !!

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Poverty News.