Trabalho Invisível

Invisible Work

Invisible Work

Nuvens da paisagem - Trabalho Invisível
Ilustração principal - Trabalho Invisível
Ilustração principal - Trabalho Invisível
Passaros - Trabalho Invisível

The Concept

Slavery in the Yerba Mate

Roots of the problem

The Complaint

The Work Team

  1. Alan Silva - Cameramen, video editor and reporter.

    Alan Silva
    Cameramen, video editor and reporter.

  2. Fabrício Calixto - Designer and social media.

    Fabrício Calixto
    Designer and social media.

  3. Fernanda Maldonado - Pre-production, reporter and text editor.

    Fernanda Maldonado
    Pre-production, reporter and text editor.

  4. Jonatan Lavor - Cameraman, photographer, photo/video editor and reporter.

    Jonatan Lavor
    Cameraman, photographer, photo/video editor and reporter.

  5. Patricia Martyres - Reporter, text editor, camera assistant and post-production.

    Patricia Martyres
    Reporter, text editor, camera assistant and post-production.

  6. Marcos Jaski - Web designer.

    Marcos Jaski
    Web designer.

  7. Robson Vilalba - Illustrations.

    Robson Vilalba

Completion Project from Journalism Course of the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná (PUCPR). December 2016.

Julius Nunes
Adjunct Professor and Coordinator of the Journalism course at PUCPR.

Elaine C. Francisco Maffezzolli
Dean of the School of Communication & Arts of PUCPR.

Vidal Martinsi

Waldemiro Gremski

Escola de comunicação e artes PUCPR

Jorge’s Story

Detecting cases characterized as Modern-day Slavery is a challenge, at most cases the victims of that kind of crime don’t recognize themselves as exploited.

As a consequence, they continue conditioned to an undignifying  exploitment regime, and don’t seek for help next to the State.

Because they are limited to conditions around them, several workers consider their situation normal and repete a vicious cycle lived by their parents that, in some cases, will repeat itself for future generations. The conscientization and the information diffusion about labour rights is an essential pillar to modern-day slavery combat.

The case of the rural worker Jorge Dauri da Silva Santos is an example that represents the situation pretty well: someone who passed through rough working conditions in Yerba mate plantation and nowadays work under a little better safety and rights condition. Even so, there is a lot to improve and regularize.

It’s For The Human Rights: Story of a Fight

The work carried out in a condition analogous to slavery constitutes a severe human rights violation crime, because it hurts the dignity and the human freedom. In Brazil this problem just became visible in 1975, when Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) started to spread land conflicts and injustices in the countryside.

The firsts complaints came from the workers, which by own initiative and understanding the irregularity of the situation, ran and reported the oppression lived. However there are lots of cases – till nowadays – of people who are in these conditions, but don’t know or don’t recognize themselves as exploited.

Especially in the countryside, there is a very strong culture that trivializes labor exploitation landlords against their labourers. What happens is that most of the victims are poor people or people living under misery conditions, analphabets or half-analphabets, with low schooling, intern or extern migrants, that leaves their houses and go to farming expansion areas or urban centers. These people look for new opportunities or are attracted by false job promises.

Only in 1995 the Federal Government admitted, towards the international community, the existence  of a real labour exploitment in Brazil. Right after, in the same year, the first modern-day slavery combat action was created trough the Special Group of Mobile Fiscalization (Grupo Especial de Fiscalização Móvel) of Ministry of Works and Employment (Ministério do Trabalho e Emprego/MTE). Since then, until 2015 more than 50 thousand people were set free from slavery in Brazil!

From the end of the 90’s to nowadays, lots of modern-day slavery combat measures were created by the State, and, parallel, by human rights defense organizations and institutions. An important instrument of diffusion and inspection of this reality is the Lista de Transparência sobre Trabalho Escravo Contemporâneo, that is obtained through the Lei de Acesso à Informação, a law of access to information. 

The document popularly known as Lista Suja do Trabalho Escravo (Dirty List of Slave Labor), which shows irregularity fined employers dates to public, is compiled through semestral actualizations of the Employer Register, appointing those who were caught committing working infractions.

Between 2013 and 2016, year of the last actualized Dirty List released in february of that year, the State of Paraná had more than 20 companies fined, as the following infographic:

What is, after all, modern-day slavery?

The slavery abolishment legacy, 128 years after Lei Áurea (the law that abolished slavery in Brazil in 1888), is not exactly a phenomenon from the past, restricted to history books: the colonial slavery model was reformulated according to social, politics and economic changes of each decade and is still present in contemporaneity, as in both urban and rural areas.

Nowadays, the term “trabalho análogo ao de escravo” (modern-day slavery) is used by several national and international entities in defense of human rights, like United Nations (UN), International Labour Organization (ILO) and brazilian Ministry of Works (Ministério Público do Trabalho), to design modern-day slavery.

According to Article 149 of Brazilian Criminal Code, four features characterize modern-day slavery:

The Herb That Slaves

According to a research done in 2014 by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), the yerba mate had the highest growth between the extractivism products in Brazil for the second year consecutive.

It is estimated that the coverage area of the yerba mate in Brazil is equivalent to 5% of national territory and 3% of South America. As it grows in subtropical regions and next to forests of araucária e imbuia, the south of Brazil concentrates the highest incidence of the herb in the country, and consequently, the greatest extractive activity and commercialization.    

In this context, Paraná State is leader in national production of yerba mate. Therefore, the yerba mate is strongly present in the popular culture of the region.

By otherside, the extractivist of the herb is one of the economic practices that most registers workers in modern-day slavery conditions.

Without registration, without safety and often subject to the southern cold, hundreds of rural workers are victims of the harsh conditions when hired by the companies. Many of them worked since childhood with their parents, which led them to give up the studies. The payment avarage turns around three or five reais by harvested arroba, which is the same as 15kgs of leaves.

To illustrate this hard situation, we bring here some important stories of the rural workers, telling us a little bit of their realities, difficulties and work routine.

40 Workers Case

In 2009, the Special Group of Mobile Fiscalization (GEFM), in cooperactive action with Federal Police, were in the city of Bituruna, in Paraná State, to fiscalize a farm reported for keeping workers in modern-day slavery conditions. Each rescue has its own peculiarity and gravity, but this case was different.

The complete story was reported by auditor Luize Surkamp in an exclusive interview to our team. We transformed the case in an animation that you watch here.

Evidences of a Crime

Our team had access to photographic registers of areas inspected by mobile inspection, between them the yerba mate’s plantation pictured in the 40 workers case. The other photos are from a tomato plantation, in which also degrading situations are evidenced.

José’s Story

José Saldanha Filho, 30 years old, is a rural worker in Palmas, south of Paraná, and acts in yerba mate extraction since 13 years old. José describes pretty well the routine of a yerba mate harvest worker, and mention several conditions that characterize modern-day slavery work: absence of instruments, clothes and appropriated security equipment; subjection to extreme climate conditions, especially cold ones; staying in precary accommodations, lots of times improvised canvas huts in the woods; long isolation periods.

The story can be interpreted, according to Article 149 of Brazilian Crime Code, as modern-day slavery characteristics. However, by lack of study and opportunities, that culminates in unknowing his own labour rights, hardly people in José’s conditions can change that life panorama.

Women from the countryside

Miss Marli dos Santos had a candid, but tired, countenance in the day we knocked on her door in Hípica neighbourhood, in Palmas, south region of Paraná. Surrounded by her children and a few grandchildren, the 55 year old lady received us with hospitality on a saturday afternoon. “I’m gonna be 56 years old on september 7th”, she told us, while she opened her gate to let us into her garden. The marks on her face, that she looks way older than her 55 years old registered in her ID, express and precede the stories that she was going to tell us later.

In that area of Palmas, the Hípica and Lagoão neighbourhood are two big villages that concentrate mostly rural workers families that live by yerba mate as their main economic activity. Entire families are employed by the herb extration companies in that area. From kids to elderly people, harvest work gathers people from all ages.

“I have eleven children and I raised them all with my work with Yerba Mate, me and my husband”, tells us Marli dos Santos. We were seated in the front yard of our simple wooden house, with the kids running around us and the parents once in a while repressing them trying to contain the kids’ mess”. Marli remembers that when she began working she was 17 years old and wasn’t registered. “Only my husband was registered, and we earned some money that was just enough to buy clothes, shoes, dress our kids, buy a lot of food”, she remembers. “But we never had our own house, it was just clothes, food and nothing else”.

Marili thinks work was really good in the old days. The routine began really early, at 7 A.M., when the harvest team arrived at the plantation, that was in the middle of the woods, between other trees and native plants. “I arrived there and while they stripped the branches, I cut the leaves, and there goes the day”. According to her, the kids used to go all together to the woods, pulled branches and cutted leaves. They only went to school when it was possible. As she and her husband, all her eleven children continued in this craft after they grew up.

“It was good to work, Oh! It was!”, exclaims her, remembering the past. But the present time don’t look too positive: it didn’t take much time to hard memories flow during our talking. Looking a bit more distant, Miss Marli remembers that accidents were really common in yerba mate harvesting routine, because everyone worked with few or none protection and it was really easy to get hurt. The workers used machetes to cut branches and spores tied to the boots to climb trees. Situations like falling off trees and stabbing themselves with the metal spores, getting cutted with a wrong machete swing, or being unprotected to snake bites, for an example, were part of their routine.

“My husband wore the spore, and then there was a day in which he climbed a yerba mate’s tree and slipped the spore at his leg”. she tells us. “The blood flooded his leg… I couldn’t even take a look inside his boots, it was all painted red. He came and told me: “look what i did to my leg”. But what was I supposed to do? I had to work, didn’t I?”. Marli recognizes that she got tired of cutting herself, but the solution was “tying up a cloth and continue working”, according to her words.

The labour regimé worked through daily payments: the more you worked, the more you sowed, and by consequence, the more you earned. If they stopped working, for any reasons, including accidents or diseases, the workers simply didn’t get paid. “By that time, our family earned together,around seventy reais a day when the harvest was good, it wasn’t much, but it was all we had”, says Marli.

Today’s Reality

Today her husband is suffering from trombosis and rests most of his days. The trombosis came due to lots of years wearing his working boots with a tight elastic to hold the metal spore, instrument of yerba mate harvesting. Invalid, he recieves a retirement of less than R$800,00 montlhy, but never recieved any indenization of the companies for getting ill due to his craft., a fundamental labour right preceded by the Brazilian Labour Rights (CLT). “The bosses talked nothing when he got sick, and when we moved to Palmas, they never contacted us” she tells. “I think the company had to help us, I tried to seek some help, but it was in vain. The bosses were gone”. She sorrows.

Unretired and not working, miss Marli also suffers with back pain. After her husband got sick, she started harvesting potatoes, by her 40’s. “I never received a single cent, and I cant retire”, she says. “We try to pay the water bill, the eletric bill, and sometimes I receive basic help from the social workers. We keep living like that”.

Eloir’s Story

To support his family of seven, the rural worker Eloir Leal, 43 years old, does a little bit of everything. Eloir, his wife and children live for 35 years in the inner city of Doutor Ulysses, which has the lowest Human Development Index  (HDI) of wole Paraná State. The small town is located in the region of Vale do Ribeira, area that also has the smallest HDI of the State, considering the other cities of the area. “The tillage/lavouring service isn’t just a service, it changes”, tells us Eloir. He receives around R$300,00 montlhy by income, sometimes doing daily 10 to 12 hours working journeys, without receiving for the extra hours. In theses conditions, Eloir and his wife remember that, more than once, were in hunger.


Real Facts Monologue

Eloir is just one among so many others that are submitted to precary conditions since they were born. When the legal protection arrives to fiscalization lotes of times the unleashing of the cycle is combated by the bosses, that owns severeal economic advantages to keep the cheap manpower.

Our team had exclusive access to therms of pronouncement of several rescued slavery workers. The pronouncements were taken 1 year before the MTE action, and the huge majority shows a phenomenon still unknown, the other side of the Dirty List of Slave Labor.

Just like the Dirty List is used to list companies with irregularities, the other side Dirty List is shown by the own bosses who, by taking notice of the rescued workers, spread their names so no other company take them as their employées. This way, without jobs, without qualifications for other crafts, the worker loses his perspectives.

We chosen one of the stories to portray the said situation, read in its entire by the actress Nena Inoue.

Achille’s Heel

The recidivism of the rescue worker to degrading situations is pretty well known by Benedito de Lima, fiscal auditor and author of the book “Degradância Decodificada”. Bené, as he prefers to be called, has been through several episodes during some actions, as in 2006, when he and the Special Group of Mobile Fiscalization in a farm in Mato Grosso State. “The shooting lasted three minutes, but it was intense. They shoot to kill”, remembers Bené.

Despite the accumulated stories, according to him the reincidence is the Achille’s heel of modern-day slavery working since he began working with the Mobile Group, in 1995 to nowadays. It is common that coordinators rescue more than once the rescued workers in other areas. “The person knows that those conditions were degrading, but as he doesn’t have resistance condition to this cruel modern-day slavery work world, he ends up doing it gain”. tell the AUDITOR. This conditioning is directly connected to the victim’s HDI: Even with a high number of reportable cases, the number of auditors isn’t enough to supply the demand. The brazilian legislation predicts 3.640 Labour Fiscal Auditors however, according to official numbers, actually there are only 2.500 Fiscal Auditors working to fiscalize 86 millions of workers. That represents 1.140 workers on demand. Besides that, as appointed Bené, the craft goes ahead to simple technical inspection. Competes to the fiscal auditor alerts the worker, which horizons doesn’t go through their own context, to the shocking fact of being a contemporary slave.

Oligarchs and Stepbacks

The huge economic and political power of the rural elites has always prevented labor guarantees in the countryside. According to the sociologist Osvaldo Silva, the discrepancy between the progress of urban and rural population is absolutely clear. A good example of this was in 1943, with the emergence of Consolidation of Labor Laws* (CLT) signed by Getúlio Vargas, that besides being President of Brazil, was also a landowner in Rio Grande do Sul State.


“By approving the law, Getúlio Vargas gave in to the pressions of the rural elites and included one more article, declaring that the rights do not concern the workers of the fields”, complements Silva.    
In 1963 that comes up the Estatuto do Trabalhador Rural (Statute of the Rural Worker), approved by João Gourlat’s government, which characterizes the extension of the CLT for the people in the countryside. But it wasn’t the only disadvantage of the rural worker in relation to the urban worker. “It was only in 1988, with a new Constitution, that the rural women also came to be considered as rural workers.”, complements Silvia. This right was consequence of huge women leaded mobilizations, who organized to fight for their rights. In the context of oligarchs, Darcy Ribeiro was a big critic of brazilian society. The anthropologist realized several analyzes about social structures in Brazil, and in this interview cut for the program Roda Viva*, of TV Cultura displayed in june of 1988, consider about exposed issues. Darcy explains it better by his own words: “Actually, for the first time in history since its creation, the CLT achieved rights goes through serious threats: a changing Labour Laws proposal that flexibilize assured rights of the workers on Article 7º of the Federal Constitution is being discussed in brazilian Senate.”  

Clean Cloth

After the firsts interviews with the fiscal labour auditor Luize Surkamp, we researched to find some stories of rural workers in degrading labour situations. Traveling essentially the south of Paraná State (Palmas and other close cities) and the Vale do Ribeira area, north of Curitiba, we had a surprise finding out that we easily found several cases that we characterize under one or more combined factors of Article 149 of Brazilian Criminal Code.

However, among every recorded interview with workers and rural workers, the case of mister João Francisco Antunes Padilha, 53 years old, was the one who had us more impacted.

Few days after the interview recording, João came back to the woods to harvest yerba mate, and according to him, he would be there isolated for 15 days. Without being registered, sheltered in canvas shacks, and working almost 10 daily hours, he earns by the end of the period around R$600,00. João discounts his meals and the price of his work tools of this amount.

We took his case once again to Dr. Luize Surkamp. She identified and showed modern-day slavery conditions in his work. The case of Mr. João Francisco is being investigated by a workteam of Ministry of Works and Employment (MTE).

Public Policies on Slavery Work Eradication

Understanding modern-day slavery work implies in getting close to it. The conditioned situation ties the human dignity since the early days, when a kid drop school out to help his parents with his family income.

The bad conditions of the villages where they live levels the education to functional analphabetism and, facing the limits of its own horizon, the youth learns since early days the countryside craft.

They are taught to see degrading situation with normality.

Even after the rescue, in which  the worker become aware of his conditions, the lack of qualification blocks his admission to another source of income.

Born and raised under a single craft,he remains conditioned to a vicious cycle of modern-day slavery most of the times. “The fiscalization obligation is rescuing the worker, but that doesn’t guarantee that on the next day he won’t fall for the same working conditions”, tells Antonio Mello, coordinator of International Labour Organization (ILO). As a UN delegate of brazilian labour affairs, Antonio is one of the backers of Movimento Ação Intergrada – MAI, that since 2009 promotes the restoring of human dignity through social reinsertion of the rescued people.

“This full time help to the rescued workers is receiving a really good feedback, because the workers who goes trough the program don’t return to degrading conditions, guaranteeing dignified way of life”, he says. Started at Mato Grosso State, the MAI was developed by Regional Superintendence of Labor and Employment (SRTE) and nowadays is also in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro States. “The goal is expanding even more through partnerships with other States”, tells Antonio, that reaffirm the need of this diffusion.

The only way to present assistance on other states until now is Bolsa Família (a brazilian income distribution program started during the first time Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was president) that, although preventing the complete despair of the families, is still insufficient. Besides that, the help to workers option under these conditions is self declarated, that is, depends of the conscience of the citizen before the situation.

The reinserction process

The Movimento Ação Integrada (Unified Action Movement) compose some steps to social reinsertion to the ex-slave. Everything starts with juridical assistance, that guarantee access to basic documentations and also to appropriate public policies. Afters this first procedure, the worker goes through an educational leveling and then learns a professional qualification, that will guarantee his insertion in the labour market and fair income possibilities. This cycle lasts about 4 months, period which a worker receives a financial help, that guarantees his permanence in the program.