Brazilian president Michel Temer has responded to criticism of a new decree that changed the definition of slavery in the country. He says the new decree will be “perfected” but that it will not be revoked in spite of the backlash.
For years, Brazil has defined forced labor as a form of modern slavery, including conditions such as “debt bondage, degrading work conditions, and long work hours that pose a risk to a worker’s health or life, and violate their dignity.” However, in the new decree revealed last week, Brazil revised its definition of slavery, saying it only applies to cases where victims do not have freedom of movement. The move is widely viewed as a political act for Temer to gain support from the farm lobby in blocking corruption charges.
As reported by Thomson Reuters Foundation, this has severe consequences for open cases being investigated by the government:
“The government decree as issued would close 506 of 706 working conditions cases under investigation, which would no longer be considered slave labor, a spokesman for Brazil’s federal prosecutors office said.
Temer bowed to pressure from the farm lobby to modify the decree at a time when he is relying on the group’s votes in Congress to block corruption charges next week. The farm lobby praised the decree for clarifying the definition of slave labor and eliminating “excesses” by inspectors.”
Activists now worry that thousands of exploited workers in factories and on Brazil’s farms, sugar-cane plantations, and cattle ranches will have a harder time accessing justice.
Temer says the new decree will take into account suggestions from prosecutors and establish a police department to investigate slave labor.