World's largest union group backs call for Brazil land reform following PLACE slavery story

Francisco Morais, 69, poses in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, in this 2015 archive photo. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Fair distribution of land and the full application of the rule of law are crucial to ending slavery in Brazil," says Sharan Burrow of the ITUC

By Chris Arsenault 

RIO DE JANEIRO - The world's largest trade union group is backing a call made by a U.N. official during an exclusive interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation for Brazil to distribute land as part of its pledge to combat forced labor.

"Fair distribution of land and the full application of the rule of law are crucial to ending slavery in Brazil," Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said in a statement.

That call came after the U.N.'s International Labour Organization (ILO) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that land reform is key for fighting modern slavery in South America's largest nation.

"We heard about the ILO office in Brazil linking the fight against modern slavery to land redistribution from an article from the Thomson Reuters Foundation," Burrow added.

Describing itself as the representative of 181 million workers in 163 countries, the ITUC adds a powerful voice to international campaigns for land rights.

In a recently published article, Antonio Carlos Rosa, a Brazil-based ILO official told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: "Distributing land to rural people is an effective way to break the vicious cycle that makes people vulnerable to forced labour."

Prior to speaking with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, ILO officials in Brazil had not explicitly tied land reform to the fight against modern slavery in their public statements.

More than 50,000 people have been freed from slave-like conditions in Brazil since 1995, according to the ILO.

Nearly five million Brazilian families are landless, according to 2016 Canadian study. The landless rural poor are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking as they search for work on far-flung plantations and ranches, analysts said.

The ITUC called on government officials to reinstate the "dirty list" which publicly names companies who have profited from forced labor in Brazil.

Publication of the list was suspended in 2014 at the behest of agriculture lobbyists, the union group said. 

"The issues of forced labor and land rights affect some of the most vulnerable people," the ITUC's Burrow said.

"Investigative journalism that uncovers and exposes forced labour is an essential step in bringing it to an end." 

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