World Cup stadium builder added to Brazil's slave labour "dirty list"

by Adriana Brasileiro | @Adribras | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 4 July 2014 07:47 GMT

A January 2014 aerial view shows the Arena das Dunas stadium, which is hosting World Cup football matches, in Natal. The company that built the stadium, OAS SA, has been included on the Brazil Labour Ministry’s slave labour “dirty list” for treating workers like slaves at another construction site of an office tower in southeastern Minas Gerais state. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

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Company that built two World Cup stadiums accused of treating workers like slaves

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Brazil’s Labour Ministry has added the construction company that built two stadiums for the World Cup to its slave labour “dirty list” released this week, according to a ministry statement.

OAS SA, one of Brazil’s largest construction firms, was accused of subjecting 124 workers to degrading conditions at the construction site of an office tower that is part of a shopping mall complex in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Agents and prosecutors from the Labour Ministry monitored the site from June to October 2013, and found evidence of workers being treated like slaves and made to work “exhausting” hours, according to the ministry.

OAS also recruited migrant workers from the interior of Bahia state, but did not pay for their travel costs as mandated by law.

“These are civil construction projects, in which workers are subjected to significant physical demands, in which activity is widely recognised as carrying a number 3 risk level, on a scale of 1 to 4, and where a very high number of accidents happen, including fatal accidents,” Labour Ministry agents Audria Kelle Gontijo Rebelo and Fabio Antonio Araujo wrote in a report that led to OAS’s inclusion on the slavery list published on July 1.

OAS, a Brazilian multinational with operations in 20 countries where it has built everything from hydroelectric dams to airports and bridges, said in a statement to Thomson Reuters Foundation that its inclusion on the list was unjustified. The company declined to comment further after requests by phone and email.

A day after the list was published, OAS obtained a court order to have its name removed, according to the Labour Ministry.

OAS built two stadiums for the World Cup 2014 – Arena das Dunas in Natal and Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador – and is involved in several government projects, including Minha Casa Minha Vida, President Dilma Rousseff’s flagship housing programme.

Brazil’s slavery blacklist was launched in 2004 as part of a countrywide campaign to eradicate slave labour in mostly rural areas. Since then, hundreds of companies and individuals have been included on the list after investigations by labour prosecutors. Blacklisted employers lose access to government loans and may suffer restrictions on the sale of their products.

In its latest biannual review of the list, the Labour Ministry added 91 employers and removed 48. Nearly 30 percent of the 609 names on the list are farmers or companies in the northern state of Para, one of Brazil’s top cattle-raising areas, while 40 percent are businesses in the agriculture sector, the ministry said.

Brazil defines slave labour as work carried out in degrading conditions or in conditions that pose a risk to the worker's life. Forced labour, or working to pay off debts incurred with the employer are also considered slave labour.

Most victims of slave labour in Brazil are poor workers who are lured to plantations or cattle farms where they get into debt and are prohibited from leaving. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery in 1888.

Eight workers died during the construction of the 12 stadiums hosting the month-long World Cup.

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