In February 2023, the media in Brazil reported on one of the country’s worst cases of modern slavery. The investigation uncovered more than 200 workers who were subjected to forced labor, including the use of electric shocks and pepper spray to keep them in captivity. The workers were forced to harvest grapes for various wineries located in southern Brazil in the Bento Gonçalves Municipality, which is in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. Most workers were domestic migrants lured with false promises from the northeast State of Bahia. On February 22, 2023, a joint operation by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, the Federal Highway Police and the Federal Police rescued the workers after three weeks of confinement.
Even though Brazil has a robust legal system to address forced labor, some workers continue to face slave-like working conditions. According to Brazil’s Ministry of Labor and Employment, the Labor Inspection Department rescued 2,575 workers from forced labor conditions during 2022 through 422 inspections across the country, finding instances of forced labor in 16 of the 20 states. The Ministry of Labor and Employment has reported that from January to March 2023, 523 victims of forced labor have been rescued, including in the sugarcane sector. Other reports have highlighted forced labor in the meat industry, coffee sector, and several others.
This issue brief sets out the information FLA members should be aware of regarding forced labor risks in Brazil and steps companies should take to mitigate risk.