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Brazil Uses Drones to Enforce Slavery Law

Brazil Uses Drones to Enforce Slavery Law

Slavery has been outlawed in Brazil for more than 100 years, but that hasn’t stopped some employers from turning to the practice as an inexpensive source of labor. Now, the state government in Rio de Janeiro is employing a new tactic to identify those who violate the country’s slavery laws. The government will use drones to help inspectors find slave operations – particularly in rural areas.

“Drones don’t substitute the inspector’s physical presence, but they will be useful out in the country, in the case of farms that are hard to reach by road, for example,” Bruno Barcia Lopes, coordinator of Rural Supervision at Rio de Janeiro’s Labor Secretariat, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The standard way of fighting slavery was a decidedly older form of technology – publishing a blacklist naming the companies that use slave labor. Launched in 2003, this “Dirty List” made public hundreds of companies and individuals investigated by prosecutors and found to be using slaves, Reuters explains. Blacklisted employers are barred from government loans and face restrictions on the sale of their products. They also face other repercussions. For example, banks and other companies can pledge to not do business with these companies.

While the list was effective, its use has been suspended. The Supreme Court last December agreed to stop the blacklist following an injunction filed by the Brazilian Association of Real Estate Developers. The group argues that the blacklist is unconstitutional because it does not give the right to a fair hearing or offer companies the presumption of innocence.

The Geneva-based International Labor Organization estimates that 1.8 million women and men work as forced laborers for little or no pay throughout Latin America. The group estimates that some 21 million are currently working in forced labor worldwide. Slave labor data for Brazil is unavailable. Reporter Brasil, a São Paulo-based non-governmental organization that exposes slave labor cases, tells Reuters that it’s difficult to tell if the slavery situation has improved or if the employers who use slaves have become more sophisticated.

The government now feels that it must become more sophisticated in its slave labor response. The drones that Rio will be using can shoot video and capture photos. The Labor Ministry says that similar equipment will also be used in other Brazilian states. However, the blacklist may yet return. The government has been trying to revive the blacklist under Brazil’s Freedom of Information Law, according to Reuters. Yet until that happens, inspectors must rely on new technology in order to prosecute an old practice.