The Brazilian state of São Paulo is taking a dramatic new step.
The state’s governor has just signed a law to shut down companies caught using slave labor. Violators would be banned from opening a new business for 10 years.
The man behind this groundbreaking law is human rights activist, Carlos Bezerra Jr., a São Paulo state senator.
He believes the measure is the toughest of its kind since Brazil abolished slavery in 1888.
“In this state,” Bezerra says, “profit at any cost will never be worth more than human life.”
News about the law comes to us from Reporter Brasil, one of our frontline partners. The group’s president, Leonardo Sakamoto, says it’s good for business in a country whose economy depends on exports. “Cleaning the supply chain is a quick way to gain markets and improve the lives of workers,” he says.
Senator Bezerra was in Washington, D.C. this week, visiting U.S. government officials and activist organizations, including Free the Slaves.
“Brazil is taking some of the most progressive and far reaching steps in the world to remove slavery from product supply chains,” says FTS Executive Director, Maurice Middleberg. “What they are doing is a global model.”
Brazilian activists are hoping for a domino effect, where other states will follow São Paulo’s lead.
Middleberg believes Brazil is setting an example for politicians in other countries as well.
“The successes in Brazil highlight the need to network members of parliament worldwide, to help build a community of parliamentarians who are committed to taking action against slavery in their countries,” he says.
FTS is pushing for a nationwide law in the U.S. where all large companies would be required to investigate and root out slavery in their supply chains.
You can see more about the successes of FTS frontline partners in Brazil, including Reporter Brasil, in the minidocumentary, “Partners in Action.”
In a landmark vote that may set a global example for getting tough with traffickers, Brazilian lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment this week that allows authorities to confiscate land owned by slaveholders.
FTS supporters helped make this happen, by joining the 61,000 people who signed a global petition urging Brazil to take this trailblazing step.
The move will create a powerful anti-slavery enforcement tool, by targeting “one of the most sacred values of the country’s elite — the sacred right to property,” according to Xavier Plassat of the Pastoral Land Commission, one of FTS’ frontline partner groups in Brazil.
Work on the final wording of the law and the rules to implement it are now underway. The amendment still requires final passage, but observers say the biggest hurdle has been passed with Tuesday’s historic vote by the Brazilian House.
You can learn more in a story by the Associated Press.
Three amazing women will be honored this year as recipients of the Fourth Annual Free the Slaves Freedom Awards. Two are former slaves who have dedicated their lives to helping others to freedom. One is a former governmental official who has shown the world how to combat slavery at a national level.
Frederick Douglass Award Winner
Timea Nagy was a TV producer in Hungary, looking to raise quick funds for a show. She answered an ad to work temporarily in Canada. But when she arrived, she learned she had been tricked. After many months as a sex slave, she escaped and founded Walk With Me, a group that rescues sex trafficking victims, provides immediate support to survivors, and trains Canadian cops to recognize and respond to sex slavery.
William Wilberforce Award Winner
Ruth Vilela was Brazil’s secretary of labor inspection, and created the world’s most innovative anti-slavery SWAT squad. The unit raids farms and sweatshops, freeing thousands of slaves each year. She also created the Dirty List, which quarantines companies where slavery is found. And she created the National Pact, prompting major companies to pledge that they will root-out slavery in their product supply chains.
Frederick Douglass Award Winner
Josefa Condori Quispe left her small village in Peru at age 9 to work as a maid in Lima. After spending most of her childhood and adolescence as a house slave, she managed to get an education and escape the life of domestic servitude. She founded the group Yanapanakusun to fight the root causes of slavery in Peru. She runs a residential shelter for young slavery survivors, providing medical treatment, education, psychological support and legal aid.
All three winners will receive assistance from Free the Slaves to support their work. They will visit the U.S. to inspire others in the anti-slavery movement. We’ll tell you more about these amazing women, and have more details about the Fourth Annual Freedom Award events later this year.
Some interesting and inspiring stories came out in the news this week:
This is a beautiful story about a Brazilian anti-slavery program which places formerly enslaved laborers into legitimate jobs—while providing education so they can have marketable skills. One of the stadiums to be used for the world cup in 2014 is being built by 25 workers in this program:
More than 2,600 people were “rescued” from slave labor in 2010, the labor ministry says. Brazil’s government has made the problem a top priority over the past decade, and expanded the definition of slavery in 2003 to include both forced labor and degrading working conditions – a broader definition than many countries, says the International Labor Organization.
Government programs such as the one that placed the workers at the Cuiaba stadium, which included six months of on-site training, are critical to ensuring that slavery ultimately disappears for good in Brazil, says Valdiney Arruda, the superintendent at the labor ministry in Mato Grosso state.
“The biggest challenge is often to prove to these people that they are capable” of working dignified jobs, Arruda said. “How do you leave behind a whole lifetime in just six months? … It’s not easy, but they’re doing it.”
On February 17 (last Friday), Lincoln’s Cottage opened an exhibition on modern-day slavery. The show, titled Can You Walk Away? is produced in partnership with Polaris Project, and features filmed interviews with slavery survivors, and offers educational resources. The Lincoln Cottage shop is also now selling Fair Trade products. The show was conceived as a way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally ended slavery in the U.S.The exhibition is on view until August 2013.
Free the Slaves works with Polaris Project through the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking—a group made up of U.S.-based anti-slavery nonprofits. We also collaborate with Polaris Project through mtvU’s “Against Our Will” campaign, which raises awareness about modern-slavery.
A Sunday article in the Guardian, connecting globalization to slavery, sourced two Free the Slaves representatives: our President Kevin Bales, and our board member and 2008 Freedom Award winner Xavier Plassat.
Journalist Felicity Lawrence specializes in exposing hidden humanitarian and ecological costs of the global food industry. In Sunday’s article titled “We’ve got to stamp out modern slavery,” Lawrence writes, “It is no accident that globalisation [sic] has seen the reemergence of slavery.” But modern slavery, she says, takes an elusive form:
“The straightforward ownership of chattel slavery is gone, replaced instead by an outsourced, subcontracted kind of control over people, which can be terminated when they have served their purpose. The transnationals universally abhor any idea of slavery or forced labour and yet it is found in their supply chains. Slaves and exploited migrants, often driven into migration by the squeeze on family agriculture, are what make the economics of today’s agribusiness work.” [emphasis added]
Lawrence refers to Bales’ book Disposable People that illustrates how “peasant farmers,” driven from home in search of employment are easy prey for traffickers, who seek cheap labor. And she writes about Plassat, an anti-slavery activist in Brazil, who says that multi-national “agribusiness” creates the perfect storm of conditions for slavery to thrive.