Guadalupe Couto does her best work by surprise when a source tips her off. She’s a prosecutor on a Brazilian government team that fights labor violations.
Two years ago, she got a call about the Olympics. Eleven men had been trafficked from northern Brazil to work on the Olympic Park. The construction company didn’t pay them as promised and had packed them into a small, rat-infested house. Couto’s team freed the men and made sure they had tickets home. She says an event like the Olympics can bring a high risk of forced labor because there is a rush to carry out construction to meet a tight deadline. And when people take jobs quickly without researching them, they risk being trafficked.
Labor trafficking has occurred in different sectors as Brazilian cities have boomed, attracting migrants from the countryside and abroad. Brazilian authorities investigated more than 4,000 cases of labor trafficking in 2014 and 2015 — more than any other kind of human trafficking, and, according to scholars, representative of a much larger number that goes uncounted.
Carmen Lopes was living in La Paz, Bolivia, when a friend’s brother told her she could make good money in the textile industry in São Paulo. “I wanted to make a change in my life,” says Lopes, so she packed up and traveled with her 8-year-old son to the border. Bolivians can work legally in Brazil because of South America’s trade agreement, but the Spanish-to-Portuguese language barrier makes researching options difficult.
Lopes, whose name has been changed, says “my boss bought my bus ticket, and said I needed to work for four months without pay” in a cramped [More]