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September 17, 2010

UN expert highlights Brazilian garment labour issues

Slave labour is a feature of the garment industry in Brazil despite Government efforts to clamp down on the problem, a UN human rights expert report says, with the victims often migrants from Bolivia.

Slave labour is a feature of the garment industry in Brazil despite Government efforts to clamp down on the problem, a UN human rights expert report says, with the victims often migrants from Bolivia.

The report, by Gulnara Shahinian, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, says that these workers are forced to endure harsh conditions and work up to 18 hours a day.

The Bolivians are recruited by traffickers hired by Brazilian sweatshop bosses, it says, but then subjected to physical and verbal abuse.

“They are often locked in basements or rooms with no windows, and live in very cramped conditions, where they often also work sleeping on mattresses right next to their sewing machines,” it says.

Shahinian’s report draws on evidence collected during an 11 day mission to Brazil in May.

Shaninian told a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week that the victims in the garment industry have to toil long hours with little or no pay. She said they face brutal physical, psychological and sometimes sexual violence.

“I met men who had been bludgeoned by their tormentors because they tried to rise up against their enslavement,” she told delegates.

“Bolivians who discover the harsh working and living conditions that they are forced to endure are not allowed to leave their workshops, traffickers confiscate their identity papers and they are constantly threatened with being reported to the police or deported given their irregular status,” she noted in her report to the Council.

She said in an interview that the factories are usually small, but noted that some of the products manufactured find their way into exports.

But Shaninian said the Brazilian government has also been “very active in putting an end to these problems,” and pointed out some of the initiatives include the publication of the “Dirty List”, which identified companies that use slave labour and  initiatives together with the private sector to combat the problem across various supply chains.

Brazil’s ambassador, Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo, said the “Dirty List” has been efficient in denying access to public financing to companies that used forced labour.

The envoy said the eradication of forced labour is “permanent” state policy and stressed its complete eradication is a matter of priority.

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