May 13th is a special day in Brazil. It’s the date Brazilians celebrate the Abolition Act, which outlawed slavery here in 1888. This year marked the 125th anniversary.
Of course, slavery still exists in Brazil even though it has been illegal for more than a century. That’s why officials in several Brazilian states picked this year’s commemoration to launch new anti-slavery initiatives.
In the state of São Paulo, Governor Geraldo Alckmin launched enforcement of a new law to close any business for 10 years if it is found marketing products tainted by slavery.
The exact language for what tainted by slavery means: “in the manufacture of which, in any of its stages of industrialization, have been used practices that characterize conditions analogous to slavery.” Businesses caught selling slavery-tainted goods will have their sales tax license suspended for a decade—making it illegal for the company to continue operating.
Governor Alckman’s announcement came during a conference organized by São Paulo’s Federal Court of Justice. Many judges and attorneys attended, as did American diplomats, former Free the Slaves Global Ambassador Katie Ford, members of the National Commission Against Slavery, and leaders from FTS Brazilian frontline partners Reporter Brasil and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
And there’s more encouraging news! On the same day, May 13, the governor of another state, Mato Grosso do Sul, signed on to a law which is exactly the same as the one approved in São Paulo. And two other states announced they are about to enact similar measures: Maranhão and Tocantins.
Over the past three years, these four states have been among Brazil’s worst slavery hotspots. Nearly 1,900 workers have been rescued in these states by specialized anti-slavery police squads.
This new instrument – to close businesses that make slavery possible – is a big step forward in Brazil’s long campaign to snuff-out slavery forever.
Editor’s Note: Xavier Plassat is a FTS board member and directs the Pastoral Land Commission’s anti-slavery initiative. See a video of him in action.