Fighting forced labour: the example of Brazil

For some fifteen years, since a new inter-ministerial body was created in 1995 to coordinate action against forced labour, Brazil has been addressing the problem with vigour and determination. It has done so in many ways, involving different government agencies, employers’ and workers’ organizations, civil society, the media, academic organizations and others.


Many of the measures taken are creative and unique, reflecting the need for extraordinary steps to deal with a severe human rights problem that can be difficult to identify, and even more difficult to punish through effective law enforcement in remote areas. Examples of these measures include: the creation of the National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labour (CONATRAE), responsible for the formulation and monitoring of the First and Second National Plans to prevent and eradicate forced labour; the creation of the Special Mobile Inspection Group under the Ministry of Labour, combining the efforts of specially trained and equipped labour inspectors and police officers; the establishment of labour courts in the areas most affected by forced labour; the government's ‘dirty list’, regularly updated, which names and shames those enterprises found to be employing forced labour; and the National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labour, by which major companies not only commit to prevention and eradication of forced labour within their own organizations and their supply chains, but also agree to be monitored. Brazil has also developed perhaps the most effective media campaign in the world, amply supported by private contributions, to raise mass awareness of the problems caused by forced labour in the country today, and to mobilise public opinion for intensified action against it.
The actions taken so far seem to have been the thread that has allowed the tangled web surrounding modern-day slavery to be unravelled. The wider participation of organized sectors of society and the State’s commitment to the established principles of human rights are fundamental to its eradication. The example of Brazil – both of its achievements and good practices, and of its difficulties and lessons learnt – should be disseminated throughout Latin America, where similar patterns of forced labour can be found.