As soccer fans around the world gear up for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup this summer, most are likely not thinking about slavery. However, unbeknownst to many spectators of the soccer tournament, twenty-five men, who were deemed by the Brazilian government to have been previously subjected to slave labour, contributed to building the Arena Pantatanal, one of the twelve new stadiums. These former slaves were trained and given experience to help them build a new life.
The Atlantic Slave Trade was abolished in Brazil in 1888, and many people are no longer aware that working conditions akin to those that slaves endured in the nineteenth century still exist throughout the country. Many people working on remote farms near the Amazon jungle, and in clothing factories in large cities, are still subjected to conditions that the Brazilian government has deemed as slave labour. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are currently around 200,000 people enslaved within the country. However, Brazil has taken great strides in combating the issue, including the innovative project that allowed twenty-five men to help construct the FIFA stadium.
The program was conducted by the Ministry of Labour within the Mato Grosso state. The men were rescued from a farm near the Amazon and were formerly classified as slaves based on their working conditions. They were lured into jobs that forced them to work from sun-up to sun-down, and were lucky to receive the wages they were promised. They were also expected to live near the farms, but were given no shelter, food, or water. After being rescued, they were placed in the state-funded program to help them develop necessary skills to obtain legal and fulfilling jobs. This project aligned with the Ministry of Labour’s announcement in 2003 to make combating modern-day slavery a top priority.
Prior to starting construction on the stadium, the men completed a six-month training program. Many were illiterate, so they were taught basic reading, writing, and math skills. They also learned basic construction techniques and a trade such as carpentry and bricklaying. To ensure that they would be able to continue working and develop sustainable livelihoods, lessons on saving and investing money were also taught. The men were given a salary of $480USD per month, along with free room and board while working on the stadium. These wages are well above Brazil’s minimum wage, and far better than what the men were previously working for. With this experience, these men will be able to work within the trades sector in the future, and secure jobs as long as work is available.
Brazil has taken many great and innovative strides to fight slavery. In 2003, their definition of slavery was expanded to include both forced labour and degrading work conditions. This new definition allowed for more specificity, whereas most country’s definition of slavery is much more generic. Most recently, in April of 2013, a constitutional amendment was made to ensure equal rights for all domestic workers throughout the country. In 2013, the Ministry of Labour also reported that through their programs, an estimated 10 percent more people were freed from slavery in 2012 than in 2011.
However, there are still criticisms regarding the working conditions within the FIFA stadium construction sites. With construction still going on, a mere two months before the World Cup is set to begin, workers are rushing to finish. This has recently resulted in the death of one worker, which occurred in the last week of March, 2014. In total, eight deaths have been reported that are directly linked to construction workers on FIFA stadium building sites. Of these eight, seven were construction-related accidents, and one, a heart attack, was deemed as health-related.
This article is drawn from information gathered here. For more information about deaths relating to the FIFA preparations in Brazil, see this article by The Guardian. More information about modern slavery in Brazil and internationally can be found through the Global Slavery Index here.
The following video is not directly about the World Cup preparations, but provides an investigative look into the use of slaves to clear rainforest for agriculture in Brazil.