Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In 2014 voters re-elected Dilma Rousseff as president in elections widely considered free and fair. On August 31, Rousseff was impeached, and Vice President Michel Temer assumed the presidency as required by the constitution.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.
The most significant human rights abuses included excessive force and unlawful killings by state police, poor and at times life-threatening conditions in some prisons, and corruption.
Other human rights problems included beatings, abuse, and torture of detainees and inmates by police and prison security forces; prolonged pretrial detention and inordinate delays of trials; judicial censorship of media; violence and discrimination against women and girls; violence against children, including sexual abuse; sex trafficking, including of children; social conflict between indigenous communities and private landowners that occasionally led to violence; discrimination against indigenous persons and minorities; violence and social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; violence against environmentalists and rural workers; exploitative working conditions, including forced labor and child labor in the informal economy and in parts of the formal economy; and inadequate enforcement of labor laws.
The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, an inefficient judicial process delayed justice for perpetrators as well as survivors.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports the federal government or its agents committed politically motivated killings, but unlawful killings by state police occurred. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, as comprehensive, reliable statistics on unlawful police killings were not available. Official statistics showed police killed numerous civilians (lawfully or unlawfully) in encounters each year. For instance, the Rio de Janeiro Public Security Institute, a state government entity, reported that from January to July, police killed 473 civilians in “acts of resistance” (similar to resisting arrest) in Rio de Janeiro State. Most of the deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against drug-trafficking gangs in the city of Rio de Janeiro’s approximately 760 favelas (poor neighborhoods or shantytowns), where an estimated 1.4 million persons lived. A disproportionate number of the victims were Afro-Brazilians under age 25. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, contending police continued to employ repressive methods. In April police conducted an operation in Acari, a favela in the city of Rio de Janeiro, that resulted in the deaths of five civilians. Official reports showed the casualties took place during an intense shootout, but residents of the community claimed police summarily executed the victims. Residents also reported problems of excessive use of force by police during the operation. As of November the case was under investigation. A report by the NGO Amnesty International, A Legacy of Violence–Killings by Police and Repression of Protests at Rio 2016, noted violent police operations took place throughout the Olympic Games (August 5-21) in several poor communities of Rio de Janeiro, resulting in the deaths of at least eight persons. On August 11, a 19-year-old man was killed during a joint operation involving civil and military police agents, the army, and the National Security Force in the favela of Complexo da Mare. On the same day, police officers from the Riot Police Unit killed two children ages 14 and 15 and a man age 22 in the Bandeira 2 favela, in the neighborhood of Del Castilho. On August 15, officers from the Pacification Police Unit killed a man in the favela of Cantagalo, in Ipanema. The next day civil police killed three men during an operation in the favela of Complexo da Mare.
In February, nine officers from the Bahia state military police Special Patrolling Group were implicated in the killing of 12 young Afro-Brazilians in Cabula, a neighborhood in the state capital of Salvador. Police and autopsy reports indicated the victims were unarmed and offered no resistance. Nevertheless, in July, Judge Marivalda Almeida Moutinho acquitted the nine of all charges, ruling the officers acted in self-defense.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such treatment and provides severe legal penalties for conviction of its use. There were, nevertheless, cases of degrading treatment such as those documented by Juan Mendez, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, who visited the country in August 2015 and published his findings in January. Credible testimony from inmates–women, men, girls, and boys chosen at random in various detention facilities–pointed to the frequent use of torture and mistreatment, varying in methods and the severity of the pain and suffering inflicted. The incidents occurred during arrest and interrogation by police and also while inmates were in the custody of prison personnel. The inmates reported police and prison personnel engaged in severe kicking, beating (sometimes with sticks and truncheons), and suffocation. Inmates also reported police and prison personnel used Taser guns, pepper spray, tear gas, noise bombs, and rubber bullets, as well as profuse verbal abuse and threats.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards, including sexual abuse, continued at many facilities, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.
Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, as of November the prison population was 711,463 prisoners (including house arrests); the official capacity of the prison system was 376,669 prisoners. According to the Catholic Church’s Penitentiary Commission, in some states women were occasionally held with men, although in separate cells. Prisoners who committed petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required holding convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. Many prisons, including in the Federal District, attempted to separate violent offenders from nonviolent ones and to keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were jailed with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.
Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. In July criminal organizations organized prison riots and violent acts throughout prison facilities in the state of Rio Grande do Norte after the state government announced it would install cell-phone jammers at prison facilities. Authorities deployed more than 1,000 army troops after 107 prisoners escaped and burned several public buses. In October prison clashes between rival gangs killed at least 18 inmates in two penitentiaries in the states of Roraima and Rondonia, according to press reports.
The press reported on multiple riots and escapes in the Curado prison complex in the state of Pernambuco. In June judges from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights visited the Curado prison (previously named the Anibal Bruno prison) in relation to a case brought against the state of Pernambuco regarding alleged human rights violations. As part of the Inter-American Court case, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs cited inadequate sanitary conditions. HIV and tuberculosis rates in prisons were far higher than rates for the general population. The prevalence of tuberculosis in Pernambuco’s prisons was reportedly 37 times that of the general population.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations, and Organization of American States.
Improvements: In the Pedrinhas complex in the state of Maranhao, authorities reduced the level of violence by incarcerating rival gang leaders in separate facilities and professionalizing the prison guards, converting them from private contractors to public employees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or arrested by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The federal police force, operating under the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, is a small, primarily investigative entity and plays a minor role in routine law enforcement. Most police forces are under the control of the states. There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, which is charged with maintaining law and order. Despite its name, the military police does not report to the Ministry of Defense. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces remained a problem.
In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers often took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services.
According to the Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat for Public Security, human rights courses were a mandatory component of training for entry-level military police officers. Officers for the state’s favela pacification program (UPP) received additional human rights training. During the year the military police in Rio de Janeiro provided human rights training to 120 UPP officers.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Unless a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, an arrest cannot be made without a warrant issued by a judicial official. Officials must advise suspects of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.
Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may leave the area. The law does not provide for a maximum period for pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees also were allowed prompt access to family members.
Pretrial Detention: According to the National Council of Justice, prisons held approximately 250,000 persons in preventive detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained may challenge in court the legal basis for their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have ben unlawfully detained.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Local NGOs, however, cited that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, remained a concern.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.
After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to have access to government-held evidence and confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. The law extends these rights to all defendants. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but did not have the right to free interpretation.
Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and courts often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The law requires proportionate and timely restitution or compensation for governmental takings of private property. Rio de Janeiro NGOs nevertheless reported squatters’ rights were not always respected when Rio de Janeiro municipal authorities relocated residents as part of efforts to improve urban mobility and safety in conjunction with the city’s Olympic preparations. According to local NGOs, authorities used eminent domain-type laws to relocate approximately 20,000 families, most of whom lacked a legal title to the properties they occupied. Activists and residents argued many of these removals were unnecessary and were carried out mainly to increase property values. Removals in Vila Autodromo, adjacent to the Olympic Park, were cited as examples of such removals. Some residents reported being pressured to accept inadequate compensation for their property.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the law and constitution prohibit such actions, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars, residences, and business establishments without warrants.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence because of their professional activities. Despite national laws prohibiting politically motivated judicial censorship, some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. NGOs highlighted instances of violence against journalists. Most were perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs in the context of massive demonstrations, but at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment and physical attacks as a result of their reporting. According to Reporters without Borders, four journalists were killed in the country through September. On August 16, Mauricio Campos Rosa, owner of the newspaper O Grito, was killed in Belo Horizonte, the state capital of Minas Gerais. According to a local radio station, the motive was likely related to Rosa’s journalistic investigations into corruption involving city councilors and a cooperative responsible for garbage collection.
In February the newspaper Gazeta do Povo, based in the state of Parana, published a list of “super salaries” containing the names of judges, public prosecutors, and civil servants who earned more than the maximum salary allowed by law when government benefits were included in the calculation. In response judges and public prosecutors in Parana initiated 37 lawsuits against the newspaper and its employees. In July, Supreme Court Justice Carmen Lucia suspended the lawsuit spending a decision on the proper jurisdiction for the cases. The NGO Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the lawsuits as “judicial harassment.”
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or systematically censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
In theory the 2014 landmark Marco Civil law–considered an internet “bill of rights”–enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Several legal and judicial rulings citing Marco Civil nevertheless had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, the Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and the Money Laundering Act.
Private individuals and official bodies took legal action against internet service providers and providers of online social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, holding them accountable for content posted to or provided by users of the platform. During the year there were at least three instances of messaging applications such as WhatsApp being temporarily blocked for users throughout the country due to judicial decisions related to criminal investigations. A Supreme Federal Court judge overturned the WhatsApp shutdown within hours, citing it as a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.
The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.
According to CGI.br, the country’s internet management committee, 51 percent of households had access to the internet in 2015 and 58 percent of the population used the internet. The government promoted digital inclusion by providing free satellite internet access to remote areas; broadband access to municipal governments, schools, and health centers; computers to selected populations; and other assistance targeting vulnerable communities.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The government generally respected rights of freedom of assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests. In January in the city of Sao Paulo, for instance, military police used tear gas and stun grenades to keep Free Pass Movement (MPL) protesters opposing increases in bus and transit fares from marching on one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Local authorities stated MPL leaders had not informed police of the planned route of the march, and therefore police took action to prevent protesters from damaging property, such as banks that were vandalized in previous protests. NGOs reported both the police and MPL played a part in the escalation of events. Some noted police were not consistent in informing demonstrators how far in advance notification of the protest march was required; others noted that during the demonstrations the MPL had tolerated violence perpetrated by groups not affiliated with their organization.
There were a series of large-scale, national protests in March, April, and August calling for the impeachment of President Rousseff and an end to corruption. Police reported no serious security incidents during these protests.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for this right, the government generally respected it.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The National Committee for Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services.
Temporary Protection: The government provided assistance to Haitian migrants who entered the country in hope of securing employment and relief from economic conditions in Haiti. To reduce the number of Haitians seeking to enter Brazil via dangerous irregular migration routes, the government extended through October 2017 its policy of issuing humanitarian visas through its embassy in Haiti. The visas entitle the recipients to receive health care and social assistance and grant them the right to work. According to the government, 85,000 Haitian migrants had migrated to the country since 2012.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In national elections held in 2014, Dilma Rousseff won a second four-year term as president. Observers considered the elections free and fair. On August 31, congress impeached Rousseff for having violated budget laws, and Vice President Michel Temer assumed the presidency as required by the constitution.
In October voters participated in nationwide municipal elections widely considered free and fair. In the period preceding the municipal elections, however, the Superior Electoral Court and federal police reported that as many as 20 candidates or politicians were killed in violence attributed to organized crime networks. Fifteen of the killings occurred in Rio de Janeiro State, and one high-profile incident occurred in the state of Goias, when the candidate for mayor, Jose Gomes da Rocha, was shot and killed while campaigning. In response to the rise in violence, the federal government deployed tens of thousands of troops to more than 400 municipalities to increase security and guard the transport of ballot boxes and the voting stations. There were no reports of violence on election day.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process. According to the Secretariat of Women’s Policies, women made up 9 percent of national-level legislators in congress, and persons of African descent made up 8.5 percent.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilians or Brazilian entities overseas, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption, and delays in judicial proceedings against those accused of corruption often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible. In response to a series of high-profile corruption investigations, millions of citizens participated in anticorruption street protests throughout the country during the year.
Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash, or “Lava Jato”), which began in 2014, continued and led to arrests and convictions of money launderers and major construction contractors, and to the investigation, indictment, and conviction of politicians across the political class. Information gained through collaboration and plea bargains with suspects launched a widening net of new investigations. In September federal investigators executed more than 100 search warrants and froze 8.75 billion reais ($2.5 billion) in four of the largest state-run pension funds in an operation called Operation Greenfield. There were also parallel corruption investigations at the federal and state levels that indicated greater anticorruption scrutiny, ranging from federal parastatal entities to contracts with local governments.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and officials generally complied with these provisions. Asset declarations are not made public, but federal employees’ salaries and payment information are posted online and can be searched by name.
Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to unclassified government information. The list of exceptions is sufficiently narrow and includes personal information; information that affects public safety or health, national security, or international relations; and sensitive military and intelligence information. The only fees charged are the costs of printing, copying, and mailing documentation. The government has 20 days to respond to requests and may request an additional 10 days, for a maximum of 30 days, after receiving the request.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, uniformed police, and firefighters), the right with some restrictions to bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level and imposes a mandatory union tax on workers and employers. By law the armed forces, military police, or firefighters may not strike. Civil police may strike and did so during the year. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.
New unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as “unicidade” (in essence one union per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.
The law stipulates a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive.
The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy. Collective bargaining is effectively prohibited in the public sector; the constitution allows it, but as of the end of November implementing legislation had not been enacted.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Cases of intimidation and killings of rural union organizers were reported. In February Francisca das Chagas Silva, a rural social worker from the Mirando do Norte union, was killed after an act of sexual violence. She had played an active part in the Trade Union Study Group (GES Women) and other activities organized by the Rural Workers Trade Union Movement in 2015.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits what it calls “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor or exploitative working conditions in general, such as long workdays, unhygienic work conditions, extremely arduous labor, and labor performed in degrading working conditions. While not all individuals in forced labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation, many were. The government took a number of actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment.
The National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labor coordinated government efforts to combat forced and exploitative labor and provide a forum for input from civil society. The commission’s members included representatives from 10 government agencies or ministries–including Human Rights, Justice, Federal Police, Agriculture, Labor, and Environment–and 20 civil society groups. The International Labor Organization was also a member.
The Ministry of Labor’s Mobile Inspection Unit teams conducted surprise inspections of properties on which forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and federal police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could only apply civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted. Workers removed by mobile units were entitled to three months’ salary at the minimum wage. State governments in Mato Grosso, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and the “Bico do Papagaio” region of the state of Tocantins provided funds to a program that offered vocational training to rescued slave laborers. As of October in the state of Mato Grosso alone, rescued workers received 1.1 million reais ($314,000).
In July labor inspectors rescued two Chinese citizens who were victims of forced labor conditions in a snack bar in Rio de Janeiro.
Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred in many states in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men drawn from the less-developed northeastern states–Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara–and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry also involving young men mainly from the Northeast. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum working age is 16, and apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors under age 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices.
According to the Ministry of Labor, in the last two decades, the number of underage working children declined from eight million to 2.7 million. The cases that remained were the most difficult to identify because they often took place in inaccessible rural areas or within a family home.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties for violations range from 402 reais to 1,891 reais ($115 to $540), doubling for a second violation and tripling for a third, and were generally enforced; however, observers asserted fines were usually too small to serve as an effective deterrent. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and the media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor occurred.
In May a study published by a Sao Paulo-based foundation devoted to the protection of children’s rights (Abrinq Foundation) found that 3.3 million children and adolescents (ages 5-17) were in a situation of child labor. The Ministry of Labor’s National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor continued to implement the country’s National Plan to Combat Child Labor and maintained a database on the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country. The government’s Mobile Inspection Unit to combat child labor–modeled on the forced-labor Mobile Inspection Unit in place since 1995–continued to expand its operations.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In January the national minimum wage increased to 880 reais ($250) per month. According to 2016 IBGE data, the per capita income of approximately 40 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. IBGE data also revealed 6.8 percent of workers (12.9 million) were considered “extremely poor” or earning less than 70 reais ($20) per month.
The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic workers to an eight-hour workday, a maximum of 44 hours’ work per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay. According to IBGE, 39 percent of workers were employed in the informal sector in 2015.
The Ministry of Labor sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety.
In July local NGOs reported violation of workers’ rights, workplace accidents, and long work days in the food production and cattle industry across several states, including Sao Paulo and Santa Catarina. One truck driver reported being required to drive for 20 hours per day, from Sunday to Sunday. On November 28, an explosion occurred at an insecticide factory in the municipality of Diadema in the state of Sao Paulo, injuring at least 16 persons, including firefighters. According to local authorities, the factory had no environmental license.
The Ministry of Labor addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that varied widely depending on the nature of the violation; the fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The Ministry of Labor reported the number of labor inspectors (2,500) in the country was insufficient to enforce full compliance nationwide.