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Published:May 3rd, 2006 12:46 EST
United Nations aims to reduce forced labor in Latin America over 10-year period

United Nations aims to reduce forced labor in Latin America over 10-year period

By Stephanie Lagopoulos

The United Nations International Labour Organization released a report this week, stating that it aims to drastically reduce forced servitude in Latin America over the next 10 years. In Latin America alone, there are 1.3 million victims of forced work. This figure represents over 10 percent of the world's total.

The ILO has its Regional Meeting for the Americas this week, from May 2 to 5 in Brasilia, Brazil and the issue of forced labour will be a priority.

"We can achieve this goal if there is a strong will to resolve the problem," said ILO forced labour expert Roger Plant at the start of the agency's meeting on Tuesday.

"Governments and the social partners in countries with forced labour have to become aware of the situation of those workers and take legal action, particularly against impunity of those who perpetuate forced labour," added Plant.

The ILOs report also recognizes a need for special programmes for the rural economy, stronger labour inspection systems and national awareness-raising campaigns. Countries with a prominent indigenous population such as Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia and Guatemala, should be of the utmost importance.

Despite the fact that forced labour is endemic in Brazil, the country is actually the front-runner in battling the affliction.

Last month, the ILO in cooperation with the police and Government officials, freed 318 rural workers who were being held in slave-like conditions in north-eastern Brazil, which is the country's poorest region. Later in the month, after an eight-day investigation, 121 workers were found being held without pay at three ranches in Maranhao state.

The ranch owners were ordered to pay two monthly salaries to each worker, or 700 reals (around $330), as well as a fine of 100,000 reals ($46,420) or the same amount in computers or cameras to local authorities. The state uses the audiovisual equipment to check on ranches.

Over the last 10 years, 18,000 workers have been freed from slave-like living conditions, according to The Brazilian Ministry of Labour. In many cases, the freed workers have enrolled in government aid programs and returned to their home states.


Source: The UN