The Brazilian anti-slavery system is highly innovative, and has been recognised as an example by international bodies like the ILO. The roots of that system lie in social, religious and labour activism that used the concept of ‘slave labour’ as a political tool to confront the power of vested interests, among them the military regime, national agribusiness, and transnational corporations.
The campaign gained state recognition in 1995, but ramped up significantly in 2003 with the election of leftist President Lula da Silva. Brazil’s ‘flying squad’ of labour inspectors has helped to free almost 60,000 workers, and the activism of labour prosecutors propelled the system beyond criminal prosecution to take a more holistic approach.
Among the key innovations was the creation of a ‘Dirty List’ to hold companies and individuals accountable for exploitation. In recent years, however, the system has come under threat from the government of Jair Bolsonaro.
For more information, go to Reporter Brasil.
Following the 1892 Kuruyuqui Massacre, entire communities of indigenous Guaraní in Bolivia’s eastern regions were entrapped in a system of inter-generational debt bondage on large farms (haciendas).
From the 1980s onwards the Guaraní began organising, forming an association that demanded land reform as protection against exploitation.
From 2006 a combination of indigenous mobilisation, interventions by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and the election of a leftist government under President Evo Morales, saw this situation change. Accelerated land titling and a limited degree of indigenous self-government brought about a dramatic reduction in debt servitude among the Guaraní.
Nevertheless, the hard-won autonomy of the Guaraní is increasingly eroded by the ramping up of natural gas operations within their territories.
For many years, migrant workers in Florida’s fruit and vegetable sector suffered exploitation and abuse, including low pay, unsafe conditions, sexual exploitation, violence, trafficking and debt bondage.
This began to change in the 1990s with the formation of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to fight for wage increases and human rights.
In 2011 the CIW took this further with the formation of the Fair Food Program, through which they upended the power imbalance between workers and farm owners by targeting fruit and vegetable buyers: the large supermarket chains. FFP resulted in better conditions and pay for workers, and has extended to other states and sectors.
Along with a worker-driven approach to anti-slavery, CIW’s bottom-up activism has pioneered a preventative approach to modern slavery.