CRS in Brazil

Brazil accounts for 30% of new COVID-19 cases globally and is home to an increasing number of immune-resistant and highly contagious variants. Brazil has the second-highest number of deaths globally after the United States. Rural and urban health systems are in total collapse, and intensive care units for treating COVID-19 have reached critical capacity.



Human trafficking for modern-day slave labor continues to be a major risk for vulnerable populations living throughout Brazil. Since modern slave labor was formally recognized by the Brazilian government in 1995, more than 50,000 workers have been rescued from slave-like work conditions throughout the country. The main factor behind modern day slavery in Brazil is poverty. Most victims are lured by promises of a better life. Many are recruited and enticed by agents of large landowners, known as gatos, who encourage them to go and work in distant regions by making false promises about employment and wages. They are taken to remote plantations and charcoal kilns where they work as debt laborers with little possibility of returning home. They are required to repay the inflated costs of their transportation and the advance provided to their families and also must purchase all of their foodstuffs and tools from the estate itself, forcing trafficked persons into a cycle of perpetual debt. 

Catholic Relief Services works closely with the Catholic Church and partners to combat slave labor and promote a culture of justice.  CRS is part of national mobilization and advocacy efforts aimed at raising awareness on the issue of slave labor, reporting cases, providing legal counsel, and protecting victims from further violations. Over the past twelve years, CRS has supported numerous projects throughout the country in human trafficking and slave labor.  Among many other activities, CRS has been involved in flagship issues such as the creation of the National Front for the Eradication of Slave Labor and the monitoring of the 1st National Plan for the Eradication of Slave Labor.


People Served: 86,007

Population: 207,353,391

Size: 3,287,612 sq. mi.; slightly smaller than the United States of America

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CRS' History in Brazil

Since 2004, CRS has managed over $2 million USD in Brazil, implementing 20 projects in 12 different states and reaching over 75,000 individuals through prevention, protection, monitoring of legal cases, information and data collection, and advocacy. CRS convened critical actors within the Catholic Church in Brazil, such as the Brazilian Bishops Conference (CNBB) and the Standing Commission on Confronting Trafficking in Persons, to promote an agenda of social justice. CRS has linked the church’s extensive network of pastoral offices with efforts of the International Labor Office and civil society watchdog organizations like Repórter Brasil who offer broad channels of advocacy and policy influence. In addition to convening actors to influence public policy, in 2016 CRS published a report documenting cases of slave labor in the coffee industry in Brazil that encouraged the Specialty Coffee Association of America to adopt measures to address the issue. As a result, the National Federation of Coffee in Brazil has discussed the issue of slave labor in supply chains and has joined the National Pact to Eradicate Slave Labor.

The historical role of the church and CRS’ relationships with other key stakeholders over the last ten years in Brazil, including CNBB, Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), Repórter Brasil, International Labor Office (ILO), National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor (CONATRAE), allows CRS to leverage its position and influence to convene actors.