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Anti-slavery team frees 1,100 Brazil laborers

Brazil's government anti-slavery team freed more than 1,000 laborers from inhumane working conditions on a sugar cane plantation in the Amazon, officials said Monday.
/ Source: Reuters

Brazil's government anti-slavery team freed more than 1,000 laborers from inhumane working conditions on a sugar cane plantation in the Amazon, officials said Monday.

The International Labor Organization in a statement called it the largest single bust ever made in Brazil, where some 160 illegal work sites have been raided in the past few years.

"The degrading conditions are always the same. Nothing but straw to cover yourself, no bathroom, nowhere to keep food. It's a cycle that repeats itself with minor variations," a spokesman for the government anti-slavery team said.

Labor prosecutor Luis Fernandes and his colleagues found 1,100 laborers working and living in what they called slave-like conditions, stuffed into overcrowded sleeping quarters on a cane plantation.

The property, located about 155 miles from the mouth of the Amazon river near the town of Ulianopolis, was owned by a company called Pagrisa.

The workers said Pagrisa started recruiting six months ago. Employers often hire workers from poor, drought-stricken states near the Amazon to clear trees or plant grass or crops.

Typically, poor workers pay for transportation to get to the faraway work sites and then fall into debt servitude buying overpriced food and tools to survive.

Brazil launched a national plan to eradicate slave-like working conditions in 2002. In 2004, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former union leader, started posting a list on government Web sites naming companies accused of using forced labor.