In 2023, the State broke a record for labor complaints; according to the MPT, 93 of these were due to slave labor
According to a survey by the Public Ministry of Labor in Mato Grosso do Sul (MPT-MS), in 2023, there was a record number of labor complaints to the agency. In total, there were 372 records, covering work accidents, child labor, slave labor and labor fraud.
The number was driven mainly by reports of workplace accidents, 139 throughout the year. The remainder is made up of 87 complaints of child labor, 93 of slave labor and 53 of labor fraud.
In an exclusive interview with Correio do Estado, Labor Attorney Paulo Douglas Almeida de Moraes, regional coordinator for the Eradication of Slave Labor, talks about the rates of slave labor in MS.
Labor Attorney of the 24th Region, former Labor judge of the 15th Region, former Labor tax auditor, master’s degree in Law from UCB, bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from UCDB, specialist in Systems and Management Information Administration from FEA-USP , former president of the Institute of Research and Applied Studies of the Judiciary and the Public Ministry of Labor (Ipeatra).
According to data from the MPT-MS, the number of labor complaints, despite fluctuating, remains high, having even increased in the last year. To what factors do you attribute this increase?
In fact, the issue is multifactorial. Slave labor, initially, it is important to understand that it happens far from the eyes of the institutions that monitor this type of crime, so, the more we are able to articulate ourselves and receive complaints, investigate complaints, the more we are able, in fact, to reach what we have already done. existed and was hidden. The main situation, the factor to which I attribute this increase, is an improvement in our ability to identify and investigate slave labor, especially here in Mato Grosso do Sul.
And why is work similar to slavery still so prevalent in the country?
Well, Brazil is very big, so we have different reasons depending on the region of the country. In Mato Grosso do Sul, I would say that the main reasons are cultural in nature and also, of course, economic. This can be explained for a few reasons. We are going through a moment of economic prosperity in rural areas, however, we are not seeing a reduction, on the contrary, we are seeing an increase in the number of workers found in situations similar to slavery.
This situation demonstrates that what we have is a false perception that subjecting people to slave labor is something normal, something naturalized, and this arises from a variable of a cultural element, and not from a desire or an objective to profit from exploitation. of slave labor.
We see this clearly in the rescues we carry out in rural areas, in activities such as fencing, pasture cleaning and also in the transport of cattle in the Pantanal region. You do this in the delegations, and you have always done it in an irregular manner, subjecting workers to degrading conditions. But this was considered normal and continues to be, so to speak, naturalized by employers.
But there is an important element: this situation is also naturalized by workers, because the profile of workers that we normally rescue are indigenous people, indigents or foreigners in situations of destitution in Paraguay or Bolivia. These people were born, in their daily lives, excluded, in a certain way, from decent working conditions in their normal environment. So, when they are placed on farms in a degrading situation, it is also normal for them. Note that the cultural element seems decisive to me.
So the main places where there are workers in these conditions are farms?
They are farms. Urban slave labor, which has already been showing signs, with some cases especially in the Southeast Region, is still something uncommon here in the State. Our highest incidence, the overwhelming majority, is in rural areas and in activities like those I mentioned, such as fencing and pasture cleaning. In sugarcane, in planting we still notice an incidence, in charcoal factories eventually, but with a lower incidence than in the past and always with this labor profile that I also referred to.
Basically, it is our indigenous people, foreigners also in degrading situations from Paraguay and Bolivia and Brazilians who are rescued from the streets by those who are interested in providing this workforce, always remembering that 99.9% of the time we have the figure of cat. So, those who organize, those who go there in the destitute areas, so to speak, are these cats, who profit from the exploitation and supply of this labor force.
Would these cats be the people, so to speak, who recruit this workforce?
Exactly, it’s a grooming, so to speak. We could not call this a formal or even verbal contract, because it has an illicit purpose. These people, they serve the real borrowers as intermediaries, giving the false impression to those borrowers, the farmers or even the farm foremen, that this contracting through cats would generate legal protection and a lack of responsibility for the person who hires, which is not true. The fact of using a third intermediary eventually tends to worsen the situation.
What are the main elements that characterize slave labor today?
Contemporary slave labor differs greatly from historically known slave labor. It is not currently about people being whipped or chained. What we have today is a very acute violation of the human dignity of these workers, and this occurs mainly due to the maintenance of these workers in degrading conditions.
But there are other forms that we have found, debt bondage and abusive working hours, which are also characterized as slave labor. The restriction of the right to come and go has not been very common, but it is also noticeable, especially in regions such as the Pantanal, where the very location of this worker prevents him from being able to move freely.
Can you give some examples of degrading working conditions?
The image that comes to mind whenever we talk about slave labor is that person under the canvas hut, without having a bed to sleep in, without having potable water to drink, with absolutely precarious food, without the use of any personal protective equipment, exposed attacks by venomous and, eventually, threatened animals, and this has increased, the threat from the employer, possibly with the use of a firearm.
What are the penalties applied to employers and even these cats who subject workers to these conditions?
The practice of this crime leads to consequences on three axes. The criminal axis, as it is a crime, is the axis that can obviously lead to prison. In fact, on January 25th, we had an arrest in the act in an operation in which we participated in the Corumbá region.
We have the civil labor axis, in which the Public Ministry of Labor has its prominence, in which we seek compensation for the rights of these workers, and not only severance pay, but mainly individual moral damage, which today varies between 20 salaries and 50 salaries that this worker received is a very substantial amount, and also the collective moral damage in this civil labor axis.
The third axis is labor administration. An employer who is caught exploiting slave labor is included on a dirty list. It receives a very important range of infraction notices, and the inclusion of the name of this owner and property on the black list has very important implications. It is prohibited from accessing public resources, if you have already contracted a loan from public resources there is an early maturity of this debt, and in some segments there is a restriction on the purchase of material or products from these farms by borrowers.
This is the example that has occurred here in the meat chain: an employer who raises cattle and sells them to the slaughterhouse eventually has their commercialization prevented, once slave labor is found on their property.
What happens to these workers who are found in these situations? Are they sent somewhere or do they contact the family?
This is a situation that varies greatly depending on the case we address. Whether this worker has family members or not, yes, family participation is very important, even so that, when rescued, they have a place to stay while all these issues are resolved. The worker, for example, who was rescued on Thursday, although he has family in Corumbá, is unable to stay in the house, which is small. So that employer was responsible for keeping him in a pension until the issues were resolved.
The situation varies case by case. What doesn’t change, and is a great challenge for all of us, is what to do to try to give these rescued workers a new chance.
In this line of action, the Public Ministry of Labor has been seeking to get closer to social assistance in municipalities. If there was a rescue in a given municipality, we work with social assistance after this rescue for two objectives: the first of which is, if we already obtain compensation and this worker will receive an important volume of resources, so that social assistance help you to apply these resources well.
The second objective, perhaps the most important, is that social assistance interacts, and we are also working in this segment with sectors such as System S, so that we can requalify this worker, so that he obtains income from an activity different from that in which he he was found and, in this way, break this vicious cycle. We have already had situations where the same worker was rescued more than once, so this is an indication that we need to work better on this post-rescue axis.
How should institutions and society combat slave labor?
We have two important lines of action. One, that those who have contact, even through third parties, with that reality bring the complaint to us, send the complaint to the Public Ministry of Labor, the Labor Inspectorate, so that we can investigate. And also in this direction, the MPT is strengthening relations with private institutions and civil society, precisely to receive this news with greater volume.
We are also seeking rapprochement with employers, mainly in the agricultural sector, to encourage good practices. It is very important to say, building fences, clearing pastures and planting sugarcane is not illegal and is necessary, what is illegal is how it is being done. We will talk to all these actors from employer and rural unions so that these good practices work as a preventive measure.