A woman has been rescued after years of domestic enslavement by a wealthy family in São Paulo, Brazil, in a case that has shocked the nation.
The woman, whose name has not been shared at the request of labor authorities, worked for over 22 years in slave-like conditions in the mansion before being found living in a storage shed and rescued last month.
Working for sporadic pay far below minimum wage, she was forced to use a bucket for a toilet, sleep on a couch, and rely on a neighbor for food and other basics—all without a single vacation day in over two decades.
Those responsible are Mariah Corazza Barreto Ustundag, an executive at beauty company Avon, along with her husband Dora Ustandag, and her mother Sonai Regina Corazza, who abandoned the woman without telling her they were moving out earlier this year.
All three have been charged with keeping a worker in slave-like conditions and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
On June 26, Avon fired Unstundag and pledged to provide assistance to the rescued woman with psychological assistance, household items, and one year’s rent at a location of her choice.
In an opening statement to court, authorities echoed the shock the case had on Brazilian society.
“What is astonishing is that even after more than 20 years of work, the defendants developed no empathy (towards the victim),” labor prosecutor Alline Pedrosa Oishi Delena and federal public defender Joao Paulo Dorini said in a statement.
“They had the courage to put her in that abject room, without any conditions, after 22 years of domestic work.”
“(She had) no alternative in life other than serving the defendants, as a way of ensuring survival. In fact, a survival that was constantly under threat,” said Delena and Dorini in their statement to court.
Brazil’s definition of slavery is broad and progressive by international standards, covering debt bondage, degrading work conditions, dangerously long hours, and violation of human dignity in addition to forced labor.
Labor inspectors rescued over 1,000 workers from slavery-like conditions in 2019 alone.
The new São Paulo case is particularly shocking in its severity, but domestic servitude is sadly widespread across the world, representing one of the most common forms of modern slavery.
Freedom United has gathered over 85,000 signatures calling on governments to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention (C189), an international standard designed to protect domestic workers from slavery.
Whilst Brazil is one of the few countries in the world to ratify, cases like these illustrate the need for countries to also actively enforce the international standards they are legally bound by.
Listen to Tomoya Obokata, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, in our Mind the Gap webinar discussing the gaps between international legal standards and the realities facing survivors.
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