12-Year Time Limit Not Applicable to Labor Abuses in Brazil

A December ruling in a Brazil federal court shows promise of progress in the country amidst its continued fight against slave labour and labor abuses after the official recognition of the continued use of slave labor in its borders in 1995. The Court found that the 12-year limitation period did not apply to Fasenda Brasil Verde, a case in which 128 men were found working in near slave-like conditions on a cattle ranch. Human traffickers, previously able to evade punishment, can no longer rely on the statute of limitations, which was found inapplicable to crimes under international law.

The decision upholds the December 2016 decision from Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), in which the Court found that Brazil had failed to adequately prevent slavery of farm workers at the Fasenda Brasil Verde cattle ranch and ordered the government to pay $5 million to the 128 men formerly enslaved by the company. During one of its raids of the ranch, the ministry of work found workers mistreated through threats of violence, surveillance by armed security guards, and the failure to be provided with food and shelter. Yet farm workers like those at Fasenda Brasil are not a singular case. Previous cases such as that detailed by the Washington Post reveal similar mistreatment of workers on a coffee plantation.

A coordinator from the National Campaign Against Slave Labour for the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), Xavier Plassat, had praised the  IACHR decision for its recognition of racial inequality and poverty as contributing factors to labour exploitation. The case, which originally involved 340 men, who were mostly poor,  uneducated, and of African descent, had been brought to CPT in 2013, but neither criminal charges were laid nor were compensation awards made until the IACHR’s December 2016 decision.

The case of the Fazenda Brasil Verde is not over. Lead prosecutor on the case, Igor Spindola, hopes to bring charges by February and has stated that this ruling is a “very good sign” for the case.