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Multinationals Utilize Slaves In The Amazon

Fri Nov 03, 2006 11:08 am

Ford, Deer, Toyota, Whirpool, GM, Kohler, Nissan, U.S Steel, Volvo, many more implicated in use of slaves in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia

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Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Labor inspector Benedito Silva Filho and six armed police officers move cautiously through the gray smoke that hugs the ground in the Carvoaria Transcameta work camp near the city of Tucurui in the Brazilian Amazon. Enveloped in the haze is a solitary man, dressed in soiled red shorts and worn- out plastic sandals.

Alexandre Pereira dos Reis stops shoveling charcoal from a kiln after working for eight hours and, wheezing, walks slowly toward the inspectors. The laborer says malaria, a chronic cough and the 95-degree-Fahrenheit heat have gotten the best of him. ''This hits you hard,'' dos Reis, 32, says. ''I would leave if I could, but I need the work.''

Like hundreds of thousands of workers in Latin America, dos Reis collects no wages. He toils six days a week and can't afford to leave; he doesn't have enough money to get back to his home in Teresina, 500 miles (805 kilometers) away in northeastern Brazil. Dos Reis lives next to the brick kilns at Transcameta in a shack with no ventilation, running water or electricity.

The charcoal he and the other laborers produce by burning scraps of hardwood will be trucked south to a blast furnace that's six hours away. It will be used there to make pig iron, a basic ingredient of steel.

That pig iron will be purchased by brokers, sold to steelmakers and foundries and then purchased by some of the world's largest companies for use in cars, tractors, sinks and refrigerators made for U.S. consumers."

Nearly 1 Million Slaves

''This is slavery,'' Silva, 49, says. His eyes tear from the acrid smoke. Silva has descended unannounced in September on this charcoal-making camp -- one of about 1,000 in the Amazon -- to investigate reports that it uses unpaid labor. The policemen who flank him wield automatic weapons, ready to fend off the deadly violence that Silva says is part of his job.

They determine all 29 workers are slaves who haven't been paid in months.

More than a century after Brazil became the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, nearly 1 million men and women work for little or no wages as forced laborers in Latin America, according to the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency that tries to improve working conditions.

The products of Latin American slave labor end up in cars and trucks made in the United States by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. Pig iron that goes into steel used by Whirlpool Corp., the world's largest appliance maker, and is used in foundries at Kohler Co., which makes sinks and bathtubs, can be traced back to slaves in Brazil.

Nucor Corp., the second-largest U.S. steel company, buys pig iron made with charcoal produced by slaves. In Peru, slaves mine gold that ends up at the world's biggest banks. Other Peruvian slaves log mahogany that's been used in Andersen Corp. windows and C.F. Martin & Co. guitars.

Three companies -- Ford, General Motors and Kohler -- say they didn't know that steel they were using was made from material produced with the help of slaves. Ford and Kohler have bought pig iron from importer National Material Trading Co., which is supplied by a charcoal camp that Brazilian officials say uses slaves.

Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, the world's third-largest automaker, and Kohler, Wisconsin-based Kohler say they stopped buying pig iron from National Material Trading immediately after being asked by Bloomberg News about the Brazilian findings."

Toyota, the world's second-largest automaker, and Nissan, Japan's second-largest carmaker, say they have difficulty monitoring the parts and raw materials purchased by their suppliers.

''We are reviewing this situation, and if we determine that a supplier uses slave or child labor, appropriate action will be taken,'' says Frederique Le Greves, a U.S. spokeswoman for Tokyo- based Nissan.

Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, will remind suppliers that it doesn't accept parts from companies engaging in illegal or unethical practices and will ask them to check for abuses, spokesman Dan Sieger says.

Slave-labor charcoal camps like Transcameta are scattered along the Amazon in Brazil, in a rain forest that covers an area 10 times the size of France, says Marcelo Campos, who runs the Brazilian labor ministry's Grupo Especial de Fiscalizacao Movel, or Special Mobile Enforcement Group."

Impossible to Leave

Modern-day slaves in Latin America aren't bought and sold as slaves were in the U.S. before the Civil War. They're lured from impoverished cities in Brazil's northeast or from the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru.

Recruiters dispatched by slave camp owners promise steady- paying jobs, Campos says. Once at the Amazon camps, some workers are forced -- at times at gunpoint -- to work off debts to their bosses for food and clothing bought at company stores.

Many go months without pay or see their wages whittled to nothing because of expenses such as tools, boots and gloves. Lack of money, an impenetrable jungle and a long distance to get home make it impossible for the slaves to leave.

At camps visited by Bloomberg News in Brazil and Peru, slaves live where they work, in clearings surrounded by miles of jungle. They make charcoal, mine for gold, log mahogany and clear trees for cattle pastures.

Many spend their nights in lean-tos they make from plastic sheeting they throw over branches, in places open to rain and snakes. They may drink contaminated water from stagnant pools shared with cattle. Their bathrooms often are open holes they dig in the earth. And they eat rancid scraps of meat along with rice, beans or watery stews.

Cold, Muddy Water

Death is a part of the job. Gregorio Maguin, a physician in the Peruvian gold-mining town of Delta 1, near Huepetuhe, says slaves and their children die because they don't receive timely or adequate medical treatment.

Maguin says he examines about 10 miners a day who have malaria. He estimates that about three miners will get tuberculosis each month as they work in the cold, muddy water that pools in the mines.

Slavery has long been entrenched in Brazil in the making of charcoal used to create pig iron, Campos says. Pig iron helps to increase the iron content of steel made by melting recycled steel in electric arc furnaces, a process used in more than half of U.S. production.

The material was originally made by pouring molten iron into molds that somewhat resembled suckling pigs. Today, pig iron producers remove oxygen from iron ore in a blast furnace process that adds carbon.

In most parts of the world, producers use coke, derived from coal, as both a fuel for the furnaces and a source of carbon.

Stagnant Water

Dos Reis, the laborer from Teresina, watches from the windowless, tin-roofed shack where workers live, 100 feet from the kilns. ''Sometimes it gets so hot in here you don't want to come in,'' he says.

Dos Reis coughs up a glob of black spittle. In July, he contracted malaria from the mosquitoes that swarm the camp, medical records show, and he says he gets exhausted early in the day and has to stop work. Twenty feet away, a man walks by a patch of ground covered with human excrement that serves as a camp bathroom.

'I Don't Understand'

As dos Reis tells his story, two men come up a steep, slippery trail, carrying buckets filled with water from a shallow well. It's the only drinking water the workers have. In the same gully, two young women who serve as the camp cooks and laundresses wash ripped shirts and pants in stagnant green water.

Two men stand in the waist-deep water, scrubbing black charcoal off their chests.

At a nearby charcoal camp called Carvoaria do Jorge, raided on the same day, inspectors find Pedro da Silva Conceicao tending kilns. Conceicao, dressed in shorts and flip-flops and caked in dust, says he hasn't been paid in four months.

He says his boss told him he'd accumulated 9,000 reais ($4,186) in debt for food and shelter. ''I don't understand where all that debt comes from,'' Conceicao, 63, says. ''I guess I just have to pay it off little by little, but it will take a long time.''

'Dead in My Arms'

Huamani says she set out on foot, walking 14 miles to the nearest clinic, cradling her son in her arms. Maguin, the doctor at a clinic in Delta 1, says he told her she needed to make a 120- mile journey to a hospital to save her son. Huamani begged on the streets for money to pay for the next leg of her journey.

By the time she had raised the money, it was too late. Luis Alberto died on May 17, Maguin says. ''I had to bring him all the way back here, dead in my arms,'' Huamani says, sobbing. ''I didn't even have enough money for a coffin. We had to bury my little boy in the dirt across the river.''
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RE: Multinationals Utilize Slaves In The Amazon

Fri Nov 03, 2006 3:13 pm

Oh... my... God.

I can't believe that in this time and age, we still have to hear about such horrendous practices. Truly appalling... This is the kind of thing that gets my blood boiling.

Hopefully with the results of this investigation, the government will take action to end this practice. Then again, this is Latin America, you never know what to expect...  Yeah sure
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