Access to Information Act generates new “dirty list” of slave labour in Brazil

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08 June 2016

Written by Leonardo Sakamoto, Coordinator of Réporter Brasil

The “dirty list” is one of the key tools to combat slave labour in Brazil, and has been hailed by the United Nations as a leading instrument in the global fight against this crime. However, an injunction issued by the Supreme Court in December 2014, prevented the Federal Government from publishing this registry of employers (individual persons and companies) caught exploiting workers in conditions analogous to slavery. As a result, since 2015 Repórter Brasil and the Institute of the National Pact for Eradication of Slave Labor (InPACTO) have used the Right to Information Act to access this information and publish an alternative “Slave Labour Transparency List”. Its fourth edition was published by both entities on Monday, and contains the names of 349 employers found guilty of exploiting labour in conditions analogous to slavery.

Using the Right to Information Act, Repórter Brasil requested that the Ministry of Labour (responsible for the list since 2003) provide information on employers fined for using labour characterized as analogous to slavery, whose processes had had final administrative decisions between April 2014 and April 2016. The response to this request constitutes the approximate content of the “dirty list” —had it continued to be published by the Government. The resulting “Slave Labour Transparency List” is available here.

The first request for this list was published in March last year, and it contains the cases recorded between December 2012 and December 2014. The second, published last September, covered the period going from May 2013 to May 2015, and a third edition was published covering December 2013 to December 2015.

Suspension by the Federal Supreme Court

During the 2014 end-of-year recess, Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski granted an injunction to the Brazilian Association of Real Estate Developers (Abrainc), suspending the “dirty list” of slave labour — a register of employers found using this form of labour. This entity challenged the constitutionality of the registry alleging, among other arguments, that the list should be regulated by a specific law rather than a ministerial ordinance, as it is today.

Previous to this suspension, the names remained in the original “dirty list” for at least two years, during which employers were required to make the necessary changes to ensure slave labour had no place in their businesses, and to settle their debts with the government. With the suspension, an update of the list that was to be released on December 2014 was blocked.
The Supreme Court has no deadline yet to decide the constitutionality of the dirty list.

Right to Information

Society needs official and accurate information about the activities of the Ministry of Labour in the fight against contemporary slave labour in Brazil. Free information is essential especially for businesses and other institutions to develop their risk management and corporate social responsibility policies. Transparency is crucial for the market to work efficiently. If a company does not report about their labour, social and environmental liabilities, it is withholding relevant information that may otherwise be considered by investors, lenders or business partners. After the suspension of the “dirty list”, the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) and Caixa Econômica Federal, which used the registry before closing new business deals, stopped checking for cases of slave labour. Other private banks and companies have expressed their concerns to the Ministry of Labour and Employment about the need to have the “dirty list” back to ensure accurate credit analysis and to facilitate the formalization of new business deals without risk.

The Right to Information Act

The “dirty list” is simply a list of cases in which the government has found contemporary forms of slavery, and where employers were entitled to an administrative defence in the first and second instances. Considering that society has the right to know about the actions of the Government, Repórter Brazil made the following request based on the Right to Information Act – which obliges the government to provide public information – and on Article 5 of the 1988 Federal Constitution:

“The list of employers who had been found to have used labour in conditions analogous to slavery, and who had received final administrative decisions confirming that charge between April 2014 and April 2016, including the following: name of employer (individual person or legal entity), name of the establishment where the slave labour was found, address of the establishment where slave labour was found, taxpayer’s number of the employer involved, number of workers involved and date of inspection on which slave labour was found.”

The result of this request is a list with the closest and most updated content possible, to that which would be included in the “dirty list” if it hadn’t been suspended. However, this does not fully represent the content of that list, as some companies may have been left out. Just as a parameter for comparison, the latest version of the official “dirty list”, released in July 2014, had 575 names. The current list, compiled by Repórter Brasil and the Institute of the National Pact for Eradication of Slave Labour (InPACTO), with information provided by the Ministry of Labour, has 349 employer names, including companies and individuals. It has names, among other sectors, of cattle ranches, sugar mills, construction companies, and textiles.

Recent developments

On May 11, the last day of Dilma Rousseff’s administration following her impeachment, the Federal Government signed a new Ministerial Ordinance that recreates the database of employers caught using labour analogous to slavery. The new ordinance seeks to answer the questions raised by the Supreme Court and make the administrative defence process easier for employers before they are included in the “dirty list”. It also seeks to create outlets for those who do adopt measures to improve their supply chain and their employees’ standard of living, as well as invest in combatting slave labour.

The Attorney General’s Office should make a request to dismiss the Direct Action of Unconstitutionally, which suspended the list. There is no plan as to when the new database will be published, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour under the new Michel Temer administration (the vice-president who became the interim president on May 12th).

Download the alternative “dirty list” of slave labour by clicking here (for pdf version) and here (for version xls).