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  • Marina Ballarim Targa Cavalari

Independence for Whom?

Last Monday, September 7th, the Independence of Brazil was celebrated (happened in 1822). Dom Pedro I, on the margins of the Ipiranga River, with his well known speech of "independence or death". The image painted about the event was very striking, even if it is not entirely realistic. This, then, was followed by several other events, in a long chain reaction. The abolition of slavery in 1888 can be mentioned as one of them; being known, even, like a Second Independence, this time of the slaves.

Just as the Independence took years, after the historical cry, to be recognized, its second version also did not materialize completely in 1888. Work situations akin to slavery exist still and are very common, even today, despite being extremely masked by the capitalist industry.

Famous and acclaimed brands take advantage of people with low financial conditions and education, and in situations of illegal immigration, enticing them and giving them precarious working conditions, in unhealthy places and with very low wages, sometimes they don’t even get paid. Exhaustive working hours and, in many cases, the lack of the right to come and go, make it very difficult to leave this scenario, which affects even children.

In Brazil, the clothing and the construction industry, together with rural work, are the main sources of this illegal labor. About 30 thousand workers suffer from the problem daily, and it is not highlighted by the media, remaining forgotten. The population, moreover, continues to buy from these brands, which don’t care or even respect human and worker rights; and ends up, even if unconsciously, encouraging such exploitation.

Lists released by the Ministry of Labor help us understand a better picture of the case. Among the 50 members of one of them, published in 2018, there are well known companies, such as the manufacturer of Coca-Cola (Spal Indústria Brasileira de Bebidas) and Via Veneto, owner of the clothing brand Brooksfield Donna. The clothes of the second company mentioned, for example, were sewed by Bolivians on shifts of more than 12 hours and in small, dark workshops without proper cleaning; in the east of São Paulo. The tailors lived in that, many times insanitary, workplace, and had no formal registration. That means that their employers don’t pay them according to Brazil’s minimum wage.

For Coca-Cola, the affected were truck drivers and helpers, who were obliged to work, on average, 80 extra hours per month. That reached the extreme of 140 overtime hours, with a daily workload of 12 to 14 hours.

Occurrences very similar to those of the colonial period are also not uncommon. On the same list, a housewife from Minas Gerais (one of 26 Brazilian states) was responsible for submitting her 68-year-old domestic worker to a situation proven to be akin to slavery. The victim worked without leave and without being paid. That proves that modern slavery is closer than we think, and it doesn't just happen in countries like China, like we were told.

Article 149 of the Brazilian Penal Code ensures that “reducing someone to a condition akin to that of a slave, either by subjecting them to forced labor or exhausting work hours, or by subjecting him to degrading working conditions, or by restricting, by any means, his mobility in reason of debt contracted with the employer or agent ”, can lead to a penalty of two to eight years and a fine, in addition to the penalty corresponding to violence. But is this really guaranteed? Slavery is still extremely recurrent and cruel, even after its legal abolition, and we do not pay proper attention to it and its consequences. Thus, the disclosure of work situations similar to those mentioned is extremely important, so that more and more people are free of this scenario and can have their work properly regulated.

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