Reading the article “Commission will acknowledge sexual exploitation as slave labor“, published in portuguese by the “Agencia Brasil” on last Tuesday, 19, creates the mistaken impression that the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor (Conatrae) would be adopting a new point of view about the characterization of sexual exploitation as a form of slave labor.
The Conatrae´s debate was completely different.
The discussion – which took place at the meeting of February 19 – was provoked by the Pastoral Land Commission, following the exposure of Minister Maria do Rosario about the case of sexual exploitation in slavery, recently caught in Altamira. The minister highlighted how, in order to dominate their victims, the slaveholders are using “de-territorialization” so as to weaken their prey: “Northeastern girls are taken, trafficked, to Rio Grande do Sul; women from state of Paraná are brought to Pará.” In the same way, workers from Maranhão are taken to the sugar-cane plantations of Sao Paulo or Bolivians enticed to garment workshops in Bras (São Paulo). “Mobility, transportation far away, turns to be a means of domination”.
The representative of the CPT noted that, in the recent case of Altamira, held at the Nightclub Xingu, which works as a brothel near the construction site of the Belo Monte power plant, the situation of those rescued – including several adult and youth brought from southern states like Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina – left an unanswered question, among others: why, in that specific case, do these people have had no access to the rights provided for those rescued from labor “analogous to slavery”?
One of these rights is the benefit of unemployment grant during a period of 3 months after the rescue, and the priority for insertion into social policies. The operation was conducted by the Belo Monte Civil Police, at the request of the Youth Guardian Council, alerted by a young man who had managed to escape from the brothel. The fact that the Department of Labor had no involvement in the operation, made it impossible to apply the regulatory standard that enables the inclusion of those rescued into the register for unemployment grant.
One of the arguments sometimes alleged to eliminate the possibility of equalization between this situation and other situations of forced labor is that prostitution is not a legally recognized occupation.
The representative of the Ministry of Labor, Alexandre Lyra, head of the Division of Inspection for the Eradication of Slave Labor (Detrae) opportunely remembered that the same kind of questioning was made in the past in relation to the first rescues of foreign workers found in situation of forced labor in São Paulo´s garment industry, a few years ago. On the allegation that they were undocumented Bolivian immigrants, they should have no right to be treated as ordinary workers, as Brazilians. He said that this objection, which openly contradicts the norms of the International Labour Organization (ILO), was eventually dropped. As a result it has come to be a standard guaranteeing the same rights for foreigners found in situation of forced labor. Even more: a formal guidance was given to the Federal Police not to deport them, but, instead, look for their legal regularization, even if temporary.
The same reasoning applies to all situations of exploitation or forced labor analogous to slavery, without discrimination of the personal legal situation of the victim or the legality of the activity in which he or she is exploited. Article 149 of the Brazilian Penal Code criminalizes the conduct of “labor analogous to slavery” without specifying the kind of activity involved or the quality of the victim.
Article 149 of the Brazilian Penal Code
Reducing to a condition analogous to slavery, either by subjecting someone to forced labor or exhaustive workday, or by subjecting him/her to degrading working conditions, or restricting his/her locomotion, by any means, because of indebtedness towards the employer or his agent :
Penalty – imprisonment from two to eight years and, in addition, a fine according to the penalty corresponding to the violence.
§ 1. The same penalties apply to those who:
I – restrict the use of any means of transport by the employee, in order to retain him/her in the workplace;
II – keeps overt surveillance in the workplace or seizes documents or personal belongings of the employee, in order to retain him/her in the workplace.
Incidentally, in the recent history of slave labor inspection, already happened case in which the Group for Mobile Inspection freed people from slavery in the specific modality of sexual exploitation: eg in Várzea Grande, MT, in December 2010, when 24 people were rescued. According to news released by Reporter Brasil news agency:
“Women sexually exploited and prevented from leaving a nightclub – excepted through payment – were released in Várzea Grande (MT), the neighboring municipality to the capital Cuiabá (MT). Besides the 20 young women, four men were also found in degrading conditions and subjected to exhaustive workday, items that characterize the labor analogous to slavery (according to art. 149 of the Criminal Code). Held in precarious and overcrowded accommodation inside the nightclub (“Star Night”), the women were required to be available almost 24 hours a day to the owners of the brothel located in the region of “Zero Km”, just over a mile from the center of Várzea Grande ( MT) and about a mile from the Marechal Rondon International Airport. Not entitled to paid weekly rest, guaranteed by law, they did not have any rest on Sundays or any holidays. Some of them came to sign a contract that forbade them to leave the workplace without discharging combined payments. According to Valdiney Arruda, who heads the Regional Superintendence of Labor and Employment of Mato Grosso (SRTE / MT) and accompanied the action, women “lived under total subordination [to their employers].” “Apart from sexual exploitation, they were still required to do strip shows as fulfillment of the working day,” added the superintendent.
Trafficking in persons
In the recent case of Belo Monte there is no substantive difference; but it highlights a serious anomaly in Brazilian policy to combat human trafficking: there have been set up separate policies, separate institutions and separate tools in order to deal with the fight against slave labor, on the one hand, and to deal with counter trafficking in persons, on the other hand, as if these two fronts were completely separated, conceptually and practically. All the current facts confirm that they are not separated. And force us to resume a comprehensive and integrated view of the phenomenon of modern slavery.
The characteristics described in Article 149 of the Penal Code for criminalizing labor analogous to slavery also rigorously apply to situations of sexual exploitation. Likewise, since the ratification of the Palermo Protocol, it has been a norm embedded in our legal system to recognize sexual exploitation and forced labor as some of those possible TIP´s purposes, to which the Protocol is aimed to combat. In fact the text of Palermo defines trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, deception, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
By the way, the only reference to human trafficking in our criminal code (Articles 231 and 231-A, revised by Law No. 11,106 in 2005), became obsolete since our legal text maintained a definition of trafficking restricted to the promotion or facilitation of prostitution: “promote, facilitate or mediate the entry, into the national territory, of a person who comes to exercise prostitution or his/her way out in order to exercise it abroad” (Art. 231), and “promote, facilitate or mediate in national territory, the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person who comes to exercise prostitution “(Art. 231-A).
On different sceneries, the crime has only one name: slavery. It’s time to re-unite discussions that our recent history, untimely, departed.
* Xavier Plassat is coordinator of the national campaign against slave labor (of the Pastoral Land Commission – CPT) and a member of the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor (Conatrae). Text translated from portuguese by the author.