UN labour agency targets forced servitude in Latin America

With 1.3 million victims of forced work in Latin America, representing more than 10 per cent of the global total, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) aims to drastically reduce such hash servitude over the next 10 years, according to a report it released today. “We can achieve this goal if there is a strong will to resolve the problem,” ILO forced labour expert Roger Plant said at the start of the agency’s Regional Meeting for the Americas taking place from 2 to 5 May in Brasilia, Brazil, where the issue will top the agenda.“Governments and the social partners in countries with forced labour have to become aware of the situation of those workers and take legal action, particularly against impunity of those who perpetuate forced labour,” he said.The ILO report identifies a need for special programmes for the rural economy, national awareness-raising campaigns and stronger labour inspection systems. Countries like Bolivia, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru with a strong indigenous population should be priority targets, the report says.Although forced labour is endemic in Brazil, Mr. Plant said that the country has taken the lead in fighting the scourge.Just last month, ILO said, police and Government officials freed 318 rural workers held in slave-like conditions in north-eastern Brazil, the poorest region of the country, and an another eight-day search, discovered 121 workers held without pay at three ranches in Maranhao state. As a result, the ranch owners were required to pay each worker two monthly minimum salaries, or 700 reals (around $330), plus a fine of 100,000 reals ($46,420) or the equivalent in computers or cameras to the State. The audiovisual equipment is used by local authorities to check on ranches.The Brazilian Ministry of Labour says that some 18,000 workers have been freed from slave-like living conditions since 1995, with many enrolled in government aid programs and returned to their native states.

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