10 Facts about Human Trafficking in Brazil

Brazil has a long history of human trafficking dating back to the 1400s. Slavery was legal in the region until 1888, the year Brazil officially abolished slavery. Even 130 years later, human trafficking still remains rampant as thousands of Brazilians are used for forced labor or prostitution every year. Here are nine facts about human trafficking in Brazil.

9 Facts about Human Trafficking in Brazil

  1. Brazil is considered a “source, transit, and destination country” for human trafficking. Source countries provide traffickers with the human capital they need. Transit countries help move victims from one country to another and destination countries are where trafficked humans arrive and are exploited the most.
  2. In 2004, Brazil’s government created a list of companies that were involved in slave labor and blocked those companies from receiving state loans. The list is effective at dissuading businesses from using slave labor and human trafficking. For example, Cosan appeared on the list in 2009 which led to a decrease in the business’ stock value and also caused Walmart to end business relations with the company as well.
  3. In 2017, the U.S. Department of State ranked Brazil as a “Tier 2” country, which means that human trafficking is still a significant issue despite the government’s efforts to eliminate it. Countries receive a new ranking every year depending on how well it complies with international standards. If Brazil wants to fully comply with international standards, it will need to increase its efforts of reporting human trafficking and caring for victims.
  4. Tourists from the U.S. and Europe come to Brazil for child sex tourism which is often located near the “resort and coastal areas”. Although law enforcement cooperation and information sharing with foreign governments have increased to try and combat the problem, the Brazilian government is not doing enough as there were no “investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in 2017”.
  5. In 2016, a minimum of 369,000 people in Brazil lived “in conditions of modern slavery”. Modern slavery consists of anyone who is forced to work against their will. Modern slavery also includes adults and children who are treated like property and who cannot escape from their owners.
  6. To change the nation’s view of slavery, Brazil is creating television programs and documentaries that highlight the problem of human trafficking. The funds to create these films are seized from human traffickers by judges and prosecutors and are then given towards anti-slavery screenplays intended for schools, labor unions or regions where slavery is still widespread.
  7. Debt bondage is often used to keep Brazilian slave laborers from leaving. Debt bondage refers to a slave having to use their services to pay back a debt to their owner. Often times, the debt is almost impossible to pay back.
  8. When Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, sexual exploitation of adults and children increased. It is common for global sporting events to lead to an increase in sexual exploitation. Traffickers are lured to these events due to the influx of workers needed to construct stadiums and the rise in tourism during the games. For example, in 2016, eight teenage girls were rescued from a sex trafficking ring located next to Brazil’s Olympic hub.
  9. In 2016, Brazil passed Law 13.344/16 which aims to prevent human trafficking and severely punish perpetrators. The law intends to prevent future human trafficking by creating a database of past offenders and by raising the penalties for those who are caught. The law also outlines provisions for providing assistance to victims of human trafficking.

There are reasons to remain hopeful as the Brazilian government is working hard to combat human trafficking in Brazil. For example, the government recently created a second list that will be used to publicly shame and denounce companies that use slave labor or human trafficking. Furthermore, one of the best ways to combat human trafficking is to reach out to local, regional or national government representatives and urge them to support legislation fighting against international human trafficking. Human trafficking is an immense issue that cannot be solved without the help of powerful government agencies.


– Nick Umlauf
Photo: Flickr

Indonesian fishing industry
The Indonesian fishing industry provides a significant portion of fish to the world’s fish market. Recently, however, this industry in Indonesia has been under scrutiny for its poor practices, including slave labor, human trafficking, physical abuse and illegal antibiotics.

Slave Labor in the Indonesian Fishing Industry

Due to the high demand for fish, fishing boats are staying at sea longer, traveling farther and the crews are working more hours each day. To fill these undesirable jobs and cut costs, many companies turned to forced labor. In 2015, a small island in Indonesia, Benjina, was discovered to be housing over 300 slaves for the fishing industry, many of them being Burmese migrant workers.

Since then, thousands of people have been rescued from the island, fishing boats, processing plants and popular fishing port. Afterward, these people told their individual stories of abuse and enslavement. Many were kidnapped or came under false pretenses and kept on Benjina for years, sometimes in cages, with no contact to the outside world. Those placed to work on a boat remained at sea for months at a time, with little access to food and clean water and suffered physical abuse from their supervisors. Others were locked in processing plants for years, forced to work 16-hour shifts uncompensated.

Concerns with Farmed Fish

Farmed fish can often be a good alternative to wild-caught ones because it reduces the amount of fishing necessary to meet market demands and allows the fish populations to recover from overfishing, but there are still many concerns associated with it. Farmed fish are fed fish meal made from wild-caught fish. This means that purchasing a farm-raised fish may still mean supporting slave labor earlier in the production line.

Antibiotic use is also a serious concern in many regions in the Indonesian fishing industry. In the country, shrimp farming is a particularly popular type of aquaculture. A significant portion of U.S. shrimp imports comes from Indonesian farms. Many antibiotics are used by Indonesian shrimp farmers that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Issues with traceability and low levels of chemical testing during customs allow for many of these contaminated shrimp to enter the country and stock supermarket shelves.

Technology Changing Farming Practices

An Indonesian tech company, eFishery, is working towards improving the Indonesian fishing industry. The company aims to introduce new technologies that will improve farming conditions, take pressure off fishing and reduce the need for harmful antibiotics in aquaculture. They are the sole producers of a “smart fish feeder”, an app that times scheduled feeds so that farmers can monitor their farms on a mobile device. Overfeeding is common practice in aquaculture around the world, and this device can save farmers 21 percent in food costs.

They also work to promote direct farm to consumer sales through an online marketplace. By removing wholesalers from the distribution chain, farmers receive more money for their product and are able to increase wages for workers. Additionally, this improves transparency so the consumer knows exactly where their fish came from, how it was produced, and when it was harvested, eliminating health concerns such as antibiotic use and freshness.

Companies like eFishery are using technologies to improve the efficiency and sustainability of aquaculture. Consumers benefit from fair market prices and more information about the fish, while farmers receive a higher percentage of the profit for their product and cut extraneous costs.

At the same time, there is less need for harmful overfishing practices that have decimated wild fish populations and formed a culture of slave labor and abuse. This sort of technology has the potential to transform the Indonesian fishing industry and improve the lives of those who work in it.

Georgia Orenstein

Photo: Flickr

Child Labor
Chocolate is produced from the cacao bean, often referred to as cocoa, which is primarily grown in Western Africa. More than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from the countries of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa, where children are often employed in harsh, unsafe conditions to meet the demands of the market. Such labor takes place in order to increase production while keeping prices competitive.

According to the Food Empowerment Project, the farms of Western Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle. Cocoa is grown primarily as an export crop and accounts for 60 percent of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue.

Cocoa farmers, however, earn less than $2 a day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, farmers look for cheap sources of labor to keep their prices competitive.

These low wages perpetuate child trafficking and dangerous conditions for working children. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, children laboring on cocoa farms are exposed to chemicals, long working hours, and the denial of a formal education.

Children are also reportedly forced to use chainsaws and machetes, and they sometimes must drag more than 100 pounds worth of cocoa pods through the forest. If the children do not work fast enough they may be beaten.

The problem is getting worse. Between 2009 and 2014, Child Labor in cocoa production increased by 46 percent. Most of the children in West Africa begin working on the cocoa farms between the age of 12 and 16, although children as young as five have been found working.

An estimated 1.8 million children are being forced to labor on cocoa farms in Western Africa. In Ghana, 10 percent of the children do not attend school, while the number is as high as 40 percent in Cote d’Ivoire.

Despite its prevalence, in Cote d’Ivoire child labor is actually illegal. Offenders could receive one to five years of jail time and up to $2,200 in fines. These laws, however, are rarely enforced.

The country has invested about $40 million to implement projects such as the building and rebuilding of schools and a tracking system to keep at-risk children accounted for and safe. However, without the enforcement of the law many children are not protected by these measures.

Advocates have called on the $60 billion chocolate industry to help alleviate the problem of child labor by paying cocoa farmers a livable wage and consumers to avoid purchasing chocolate that is sourced from Western Africa.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: Food Is Power, Labor Rights, Anti-Slavery
Photo: Flickr

slave labor
A recent investigation by the Guardian in Southeast Asia has shed light on one of the darkest practices in the world: slave labor. Human trafficking of forced workers is far from something of the past and this sobering discovery shows just how close to home it gets.

Thailand is the largest prawn exporter in the world, shipping out 500,000 tons of shrimp annually in an estimated $7.3 billion industry. Ten percent of the supply comes from Chareon Pokphand (CP) Foods.

The goods are distributed to a handful of major international grocery retailers whose names are commonplace in Western households. The list of recipients includes huge outlets like Costco and Walmart in the United States and Carrefour and Tesco in Britain as well as a few additional European chains.

A six-month investigation by the Guardian revealed that slave labor fuels a majority of CP Food’s shrimp business through a chain of resource suppliers. The prawns themselves are grown in farms, but the source of the fishmeal that feeds the animals is linked to forced labor under inhumane conditions.

The fishmeal is produced by suppliers that own or buy the seafood byproduct from slave-manned ships and sold to CP Foods. Interviews with escaped slaves took investigators deep into the workings of the fishmeal trade which operates on illegal terms in international waters off the Thai coast.

The escapees report being forced to work 20 hour shifts at a time with no pay. The men were kept in chains and offered methamphetamines to keep them working through fatigue. They endured regular beatings, public-style executions and extreme torture which often led to death.

One of the most gruesome tales of execution involved a slave laborer whose limbs were tied to the bows of four boats and then pulled apart.

This is not the first time attention has been brought to the conditions of sea vessel workers in Thailand. Non-government Organizations and the U.N. have raised alarm multiple times over the past four years about the presence of slave labor in the country. There are currently 500,000 forced workers in Thailand according to the Thai government itself, with 300,000 in the fishing industry alone.

Thai brokers supply the majority of the workforce, 90 percent of which is made up of duped migrants from countries such as Cambodia and Burma. The immigrants pay the brokers to help them find work and are instead sold into slavery for as low as $420.

An anonymous government worker in Thailand told the Guardian that government officials are tied up with the Thai mafia in the human trafficking business and are reluctant to take preventative action. While the retail giants each take a different approach to their own investigations and negotiations, human rights groups and even CP Foods are calling for consumers to force action by boycotting prawns from the suppliers.

Slavery is illegal in every country in the world but 21 million men, women and children are enslaved globally according to the International Labor Organization. Thailand runs the risk of standing with North Korea and Iran at a tier 3 grade, the lowest U.S. ranking on the human trafficking index.

 — Edward Heinrich

Sources: The Guardian, Gawker, CBS News
Photo: Flickr