Brazil finds biggest case of modern-day slavery
( 2003-09-02 09:40) (Agencies)
Brazilian authorities said on Monday they had freed about 800 slave workers at a coffee farm in Bahia state, the largest discovery since a clampdown on the practice began in the 1990s.
Some 200 workers were also found at another farm with appalling conditions, including no proper housing and inadequate food and sanitary conditions, said Marcelo Campos, an adviser at the Labor Ministry's special unit to monitor slavery in Brazil's vast interior.
"It is the biggest find of this crime we have had since 1995," Campos said, referring to when the unit was created.
He said one worker died of a heart attack when the inspectors turned up at the farm where the 800 workers were found, about 70 of them seriously ill. Another 200 workers were discovered at the second farm, which had a different owner, in the poor interior of the northeastern Bahia state.
Before 1995, Brazil had no real policy to fight a practice that usually involves landlords hiring poor workers in a different region of the country and then transporting them thousands of miles to their isolated farms.
The workers are not paid and have no money to return to their homes. Sometimes they are prevented by armed guards from leaving the farms, where they are often not given proper food or housing.
The farm owners have so far not been charged, but Labor Ministry officials said they would team up with public prosecutors and try them for keeping workers in slave-like conditions. If convicted, the owners could face up to four years in prison.
Campos said the farmers would also have to pay the workers decent wages retroactively.
Since coming to power in January, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has pledged to end the practice. An estimated 25,000 people still live in slave-like conditions in the country that was the last to formally abolish slavery in the Americas, in 1888.
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