U.S. agency to promote worker voice, labour rights in Brazil, Paraguay

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labour has announced the award of a US$ 5 million cooperative agreement to the International Laborr Organisation [ILO] to strengthen the capacity of worker and civil society organisations in the two countries to increase worker voice and representation and address abusive labour practices, including forced labour and child labour.

The project will focus on cattle-raising areas in Brazil and Paraguay where evidence of abuses exists. It aligns with the department’s continued effort to reduce and prevent forced labour and child labour in global supply chains.

Administered by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, the project will seek to address these issues in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, and in the Department of Boquerón in the Paraguayan Chaco region.

The project will help worker and civil society organisationss these issues in Mato Grosso do Sul,  to better identify labour violations and advocate for workers. It will also provide services to address labour violations for workers and their families and seek greater engagement with the private sector to advocate for better working conditions.

In Brazil’s and Paraguay’s cattle-raising sectors, frequent reports exist of coercive recruitment and employment practices targeting rural, indigenous and other vulnerable populations. These practices include false promises of good work and living conditions, and employers often pay wages in advance to trap workers into debt bondage.

Workers on small- and medium-sized cattle farms that supply larger international cattle production operations often fall victim. As cattle production in the two countries has expanded to meet global demand, the threat and levels of forced labor and labour exploitation has also grown.

Meanwhile, several studies indicate that the cattle industry in Brazil is a major driver of deforestation, including a 2013 paper that says “in recent years, 48 percent of all tropical rainforest loss occurred in Brazil, where cattle ranching drives around three-quarters of forest clearing.”

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