Latin America has nearly 2 million forced laborers, a problem that needs further research and action. In a documentary video and website, Ana Maria Defillo reports on efforts to expose and address the issue in Brazil.
Forced labor in the Americas is rooted in a complex system of social and economic inequity, market demands, precarious workforces and discriminatory immigration policies. According to the International Labour Organisation, Latin America and the Caribbean account for the third largest number of forced laborers, with 1,800,000 victims. The region is considered one of the most unequal in the world, creating a vast population that seeks better social and economic opportunities.
In the early 1990s, after 20 years of dictatorship, Brazil liberalized its economy to help develop the newly democratic country. The labor market exhibited massive inequality between skilled and informal workers.
Latin America experts praise both Brazil’s rise to the top and its leadership against human trafficking. In the past two decades, it has created institutions to fight forced labor such as the Executive Group for the Suppression of Forced Labor (GERTRAF), the Mobile Inspection Unit Group (MIU) in the Ministry of Labor and Employment, and the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor (CONATRAE). In 2003, CONATRAE implemented two National Action Plans to combat forced labor and made that fight a political priority.
My short documentary, Makeshift Americas, examines the layers of this topic by investigating the exploitation of Bolivians in the garment industry of Sao Paulo, Brazil. For six months in the first half of 2014, I immersed myself in the Bolivian community of São Paulo. I attended immigrant marches, debates, festivals and parties. Furthermore, I volunteered at Centro de Apoio e Pastoral do Migrante, a highly effective nonprofit organization featured in the documentary that advocates for immigrant rights, citizenship, and social and political empowerment.
Through my involvement in the community, I was able to interview many Bolivian migrants on their experiences as garment workers in Brazil. Four of them are featured in the documentary. I also interviewed a government official from Bolivia, Brazilian journalists, academics and activists.
I made numerous attempts to interview Brazilian government officials. Despite their initial eagerness to be involved with my research, they never followed through on their commitments. However, I was able to attend a debate on forced labor organized by the Public Ministry of Labor (Ministerio Publico do Trabalho) in São Paulo on August 1, through which I was able to obtain an official government perspective on the issue.
I also attempted to interview owners of the clothing factories; they did not respond to my requests. Thus, the final product was produced with formal interviews, information and data procured at panels, debates and festivals, and analysis of data obtained through my research. To see the final product, please visit the Makeshift Americas website.