Contemporary slavery is a serious problem. One of the difficulties that governments and civil society organizations face to overcome it is the accepted idea that slavery was totally abolished during the abolitionists struggles of the 19thcentury. Formally, it was – thanks to the efforts of many Christians and churches around the world. But one of its main characteristics remained: the loss of liberty. In many countries, poor people are in precarious labor relations and fake-contracts, that lead them to enormous debts, and to the lost of liberty.
Brazil is one of the countries that still face difficulties to overcome this reality. According to Father Ricardo Rezende Figueira, contemporary slavery starts with the promise of employment made by a slave trader – who is usually called “gato”, in Brazil – to young people who embark on precarious means of transport in search of the dream of better living conditions for themselves and their families. In his book called Stepping out of your own shadow (2004), Father Figueira describes the way it still happens: a system in which the employee acquires debt with travel, accommodation, food and tools used in his own work activity and, to pay his debts, he or she is subjected to exhaustive journeys and prevented from leaving work by the means of threats.
In Brazilian rural areas, where many live in extreme poverty, more than 5.000 people were rescued from slavery by government authorities in the last two years (2009-2010). However, there are several cases of forced labor in the urban areas of Brazilian Major Cities that are not getting the same attention from the government. In São Paulo, many immigrants are subjected to work more than 12 hours per day without break and with very low wages. Despite recent media reports on the cases of Zara and McDonalds, there are no effective official investigations on the cases, and many go unpunished.
Concerned with this situation and with the support of the USINA 21 Youth Movement, FALE's (SPEAK Network) local group in Sao Paulo is launching an online petition "SPEAK Out against forced labor in Sao Paulo." It is adressed to the President of the State Parliament of São Paulo, to start a Parliament Commission of Inquiry (CPI) on the issue, and secure a serious investigation of these cases.
To read it in English, click here.
To read the original petition in Portuguese, click here
To sign the petition, and support FALE’s Campaign, click here
By Marcus Vinicius Matos