- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

BRASILIA, Brazil, March 11 (UPI) — Brazil unleashed Tuesday a new initiative that would combat the use of slave labor by landowners in the nation's vast rural areas.

The federal government is seeking to pass legislation as part of its National Plan for the Eradication of Slave Labor, which includes penalties of up to four years imprisonment for landowners convicted of using what is commonly known as "debt slavery."

The practice of debt slavery — most commonly occurring in Brazil's rural states to the north — includes the hiring of laborers under false pretenses, then forcing them to work in harsh, remote conditions with little pay. They're also charged for food and board, leaving them with little or no wages.

Previous penalties handed down called for landowners to merely pay back wages and expenses to workers even though it is widely known that some use physical violence, hunting down and even killing those workers who attempt to escape.

"Some judges are sentencing those responsible for this kind of exploitation to pay food kits. For those who have money, this doesn't amount to beans," said the president of the Federal Labor Court, Francisco Fausto, on Monday. He appealed to the Brazilian Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would also call for the confiscation of land used for slave labor by the federal government.

According to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the 75-point amendment would not only enforce current ant-slavery laws, but would work toward the creation of a reintegration program for those laborers that escape bondage.

"I spent a great part of my life saying that realizing the dream of winning the presidency would be in assisting those in need of vindication," said Lula, a former labor leader who took office just over two months ago. "Now we have the opportunity to make these things happen."

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