Brazil Models Courage in Fighting Modern-Day Slavery

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Whether we know it or not, modern-day slavery is everywhere. It lurks in our phones, food, clothing and more. 

Coffee is only one of many products touched by modern-day slavery and forced labor. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS
Coffee is only one of many products touched by modern-day slavery and forced labor. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS
Like few other countries, Brazil has made a concerted effort to identify products tainted with slave labor and end modern slavery within its borders. It has actively enlisted help from businesses and publicly listed firms and farms with slave-labor connections. A list of employers that have profited from slave labor—unofficially called “the Dirty List”—has been among the tools the government has used to fight against slave labor in Brazil.

Some employers have actively engaged in this campaign, but others have been reluctant to share information, fearing a consumer backlash if they are publicly associated with modern slavery.

In 2013, Catholic Relief Services coffee program leaders found that 15 coffee estates were included on the “Dirty List.” They contacted longtime anti-slavery and trafficking organization and CRS partner, Repórter Brasil, seeking answers to the following questions:

1. What constitutes slave labor on coffee farms in Brazil? How does Brazil define slave labor?  What does it mean to be on the “Dirty List”?  What does slave labor look like in the context of the coffee chain?
2. What is the scope of the problem? How widespread is slave labor in Brazil’s coffee sector? Are the cases documented on the “Dirty List” isolated instances? Or are they representative of a broader reality?

3. What are root causes/risk factors? What are the causes of slave labor? Are there specific factors that increase the risk that farmworkers will be employed in slave/forced labor conditions?

4. Where does coffee from farms employing slave labor go? Can we identify the specific commercial channels into which coffee grown on farms cited with slave labor violations is being sold?

The results of that inquiry, and a reflection on the difficulty of fighting modern-day slavery, appear in a series of posts on our Coffeelands blog.

Ending modern-day slavery will not be easy. The first step is refusing to ignore the problem.

For the answers to our inquiry, please read Modern Slavery in The Coffeelands.

Much of the work CRS does throughout the world helps eliminate conditions that make people easy targets of human traffickers. Please consider supporting our work.