excerpt from Joshua and the Promised Land
by Roy H. May, Jr.
Regardless of how we should best understand these references to slavery and forced labor, they remind us that both continue to be widely practiced. Brazil gives us an example. Deep in the inaccessible recesses of the Brazilian Amazon, forced labor -- "the functional equivalent to slavery," according to Human Rights Watch/Americas -- is exploited to cut and bum the rain forest for pastures on large, sometimes unmapped, ranches. Poor unemployed people, mostly men, are recruited by labor contractors in cities and towns. Then they are transported to the wilderness ranches. Contracts are verbal and their terms seldom explained. The workers are promised high wages. They are not told that all living expenses, including transportation and housing, will be charged against their earnings at rates set by the ranch manager. Living conditions in the labor camps are deplorable with plastic sheeting for tents and no sanitary nor medical facilities. Once on the job, workers are forced to work at gunpoint. They are controlled by armed guards and are not free to leave. When their "contracts" finally end, the workers are sent on their way -- but seldom are they paid. (15) Their "debts" more than match their wages!
But, Brazil is hardly the only place where formed labor is a reality. It is worldwide. Anti-Slavery International, a British human rights group, claims that 100 million people are enslaved the world -over. (16) Children often are the victims. In Pakistan, between eleven and twelve million children ages four to fourteen labor under various forms of involuntary servitude. Extremely poor parents sell their children to workshop and factory owners for needed cash. The children's work conditions are hazardous and unsanitary, and their remuneration, if any, is meager. Children comprise 90 percent of the workforce for Pakistan's carpet industry. They also labor by the thousands as farm workers. These are not the children of landowners who are sharing family chores. Rather, they are the children of landless peasants. They are unfree laborers who do the ploughing, seeding, and harvesting. According to one landowner, "Children are cheaper to run than tractors and smarter than oxen." He says seven to ten year olds are especially good workers. (17)
Forced labor is practiced in the
United States. In 1994, both CNN and ABC News reported on
migrant farm workers being held against their will by peach,
vegetable, and tobacco growers in the South. The workers are
recruited by labor contractors from homeless shelters and soup
kitchens. On the farm, they are confined to labor camps
patrolled by dogs and armed guards. They buy their food and
other necessities from the grower's store. When their
"contracts" end, they are paid little or nothing because of their
"debts." (18) In California and other states, illegal immigrants are
sometimes formed against their will to work in clandestine
sweatshops. Their passports -- if they have them -- are confiscated,
armed guards keep the immigrants out of sight, and managers constantly threaten to turn them over to immigration authorities.
Such intimidation is equivalent to slavery. Involuntary
servitude is an important source of labor the world over.
15. James Cavallero, "Forced Labor in Brazil Re-visited: On-site investigations document that practice continues," a report by Americas Watch, November 30, 1993, p. 4. (return to text)
16. Special Report, "Slavery," Newsweek, international edition for Latin America (May 4, 1992), pp. 10-17. (return to text)
17. Jonathan Silvers, "Child Labor in Pakistan," The Atlantic Monthly (February 1996), pp. 79-92. (return to text)
18. ABC News Turning Point, "Of Human Bondage: Slavery Today," August 31, 1994, and CNN Presents, "Faces of Slavery," December 11, 1994. (return to text)
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