CNN Exposes Slave Labor at Cattle Ranches in Brazil

Thousands of workers are forced to work in the country’s animal agriculture industry, living in squalid conditions for no pay.


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A recent exposé published by news outlet CNN revealed rampant human slave labor on Brazil’s cattle ranches. As a routine practice, ranch operators lure farmhands with the promise of paid work but instead entrench them into a debt system where pay is docked for meals—of which they receive one per day—and squalid accommodations. One such worker, 69-year-old Luiz Cardoso da Silva, has not received a paycheck for two years. “I’ve been an inspector for almost 20 years, and this is really one of the worst cases I’ve seen,” Labor Ministry veteran inspector Marcelo Goncalves Campos said about a recent bust. “They are being treated—without any exaggeration—like animals … sleeping in the same corral as the cattle.” Out of the 50,000 Brazilian workers rescued from modern slavery across industries since 1995 by mobile sting units organized by various groups, Campos revealed that one-third (or 16,816 people) originated from cattle ranches. “The famous grass-fed beef produced on these ranches is a staple at home and an important export for Brazil, accounting for $4.35 billion in revenues in 2016,” CNN writer Shasta Darlington revealed. “Few consumers suspect that extreme labor exploitation is an ingrained part of this culture.” In addition to human slave labor, a recent report compiled by environmental organization Mighty Earth revealed that companies that source feed for animal agriculture from soy plantations in Brazil—particularly Burger King—are actively contributing to the vast deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and native grasslands.