How Qatar and Brazil are approaching modern slavery ahead of the two biggest global sports events

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Sports events often have disastrous track records in forced labour and trafficking. With Brazil preparing to host the Olympics this year, and Qatar getting ready for the Football World Cup in 2022, the next two biggest global sports events will be held in two countries that have a radically different approach to tackling modern slavery.

Qatar has already been in the limelight numerous times over the unethical labour practices and slave-like living conditions forced upon migrant workers preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The country’s international reputation has been tarnished by the controversial kafala sponsorship system (which links a migrant worker’s legal resident to his or her employer), reports of human rights abuses, and a projection by the International Trade Union Confederation that 7,000 migrant workers will die at World Cup construction sites.

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Despite recent attempts to initiate labour reform, Qatar has a long way to go, in terms of human rights and fair labour practices, to improve its image internationally. In contrast, other countries such as Brazil have made significant strides in the fight against modern slavery due to sustained efforts of their respective national governments.

To be clear, forced labour and modern slavery still exist in Brazil. As one of the last countries in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, Brazil still contains more than 200,000 modern day slaves and is still dealing with the effects of centuries of entrenched slave culture. In 2014, the year Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup, multiple cases of modern slavery were still reported.

However, Brazil is still worth looking into in more detail. Indeed, in 1995, the Brazilian Ministry of Labour formed a Special Mobilisation Inspection Group (GEFM) in a bid to wipe our unethical labour practices. The group combines the efforts of labour inspectors, prosecutors, and police officers to investigate reports of modern slavery.

Over the next 20 years, the GEFM rescued more than 50,000 slaves from captivity and facilitated the disbursement of over £11 million in compensation to freed workers. Building on the progress made by the GEFM, Brazil proposed the First National Plan to Eradicate Forced Labour and formed the National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labour (CONATRAE) in 2003. The Commission is in charge of all government efforts to fight forced labour and modern slavery, including:

  • The “Dirty List” – A list of businesses found to be exploiting slave labour. Presence on the list prevents a company from receiving government loans and restricts sales. A company must pay fines and take tangible steps to improve work conditions over a two-year period to be removed from the list. Unfortunately, despite outcries from the UN and NGOs, the Supreme Court of Brazil suspended the “Dirty List” in 2015.
  • The National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labour – A 2005 agreement between the Brazilian government and almost 400 multinational enterprises to end negotiations with private companies on the “Dirty List.”
  • The Second National Plan to Eradicate Forced Labour (2008) – The Second National Plan includes provisions to prevent companies exploiting slave labour from signing public contracts and receiving public loans.

Brazil’s commendable efforts to combat modern slavery demonstrate the Brazilian government takes the issue seriously. Substantial efforts still need to be made, and we here at Chainchecked will certainly be keeping a close watch on how the country progresses ahead of the 2016 Olympics. However, Brazil is an interesting case of state mobilization against modern slavery that many, if not all, countries in the world, including Qatar, could derive inspiration.