Forced Labour Modern Slavery

Country Profile: Brazil

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[James Clough]

Hidden within Brazil’s wide and vast rainforests – predominantly in the state of Para – are charcoal farms where people are forced to engage in illegal deforestation.

The majority of Brazil is currently celebrating and partaking in one of its largest events of the year – Carnival, which typically involves public celebrations, including parades, public street parties and other various entertainment, combining some elements of a circus with elaborate costumes and masks allowing people to set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity and a spectacle that is captured through social media channels to millions around the world in what comes across as an extremely creative and joyous time for all involved in Brazil. The celebrations and wide spread advertisement of Carnival in Brazil led me to focus on Brazil, its history in regard to slavery and a small piece of Brazil’s modern slave labour trade.

Brazil’s history in regard to slavery is very strong and very poignant with it being heavily involved in the Transatlantic slave trade, importing more than one third of the estimated 12 million slaves that were shipped between Africa and the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries. It was only just over 130 years ago where Brazil became the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery and It was over 20 years ago that the Brazilian government brought in new tough laws that were aimed to put an end to modern slavery in Brazil as the problem continued to plague the country; but even after these new laws have been introduced, it is still estimated that 1 in 4 Brazilians are entrapped in slavery or have experienced slavery at one point in their lives and have been freed by new police brigades that have been implemented to prevent slavery within Brazil.

One of Brazil’s largest exports in its growing economy is known as pig iron which is a key element in worldwide production of steel. A crucial element to the creation of this $2 billion per year pig iron trade is charcoal. The charcoal is used to fuel plants that create pig iron by a large number of companies with plants set up in Brazil’s northern state of Para before it is exported to countries in Asia, many countries in Europe and a large percentage of the pig iron produced exported to the United States of America. The charcoal that fuels a number of these plants is where we find one of Brazil’s largest slave labour trades.  

Hidden within Brazil’s wide and vast rainforests – predominantly in the state of Para – are charcoal farms where people are forced to engage in illegal deforestation. The slaves are then exposed to burning the wood from this illegal deforestation in ovens, inhaling smoke-filled air, forced to work without any protective equipment for long hours and restraint from running away, subject to disease and a lack of food and water. The charcoal from these slave labour camps or charcoal farms is then sent to fuel the production of pig iron.

The charcoal camps are the first stop in a large supply chain to various companies in many different countries. Steel used to produce particular models of cars and washing machines have been linked to the charcoal farms utilising slave labour as the start of the supply chain but for the larger part with so many different parts to the supply chain it is difficult to determine exactly who is and who isn’t using pig iron tainted by the slave trade in order to produce steel that we see and use in our everyday lives without much thought as to how it had been produced.

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