Slave labor used to clear Brazilian rainforest

The Amazon rainforest is disappearing at a precipitous pace, and as is too often the case, this environmental catastrophe is connected to equally dire human-rights abuses. To wit: Thousands of poor, illiterate Brazilian peasants work every year chopping down the forest in conditions Brazil’s Labor Ministry delicately refers to as “analogous to slavery.” Promised $3 to $4 a day, peasants are lured to southeastern Brazil to clear forests with machetes, tractors, and chain saws. They often find themselves working from sunup to sundown in the tropical heat, seven days a week, only to find themselves in debt to their employers, who keep them working with threats of nonpayment and even death. The Brazilian government acknowledges that there are at least 25,000 such slave laborers, and other estimates range up to 50,000. There are also hundreds of thousands more doing what Brazil calls “degrading” labor, working in slave conditions though not held against their will. The resultant products — timber, soybeans, processed meats, and pig iron — often end up in U.S. markets. Something to keep in mind next time you’re eyeing that Brazilian cherry for the cabinets in your kitchen remodel.

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