South African government urged to probe labor practices in Brazil

by Ryan McCarthy
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RIO DE JANEIRO – Following reports of inhumane working conditions, the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) is requesting that its government investigate Brazil’s poultry production practices.

According to Reuters, SAPA said it urged the country’s government to seek “urgent comment” after a report concluded that thousands of workers in Brazil’s meat and poultry sectors were victims of forced labor.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit research and advocacy group based in Washington, DC, cited several occurrences of forced labor and inhumane conditions in the Brazilian poultry industry.

IATP pointed out in its report that “a team of about 10 workers catches more than 50,000 chickens a day – often working 12 to 17 hours traveling from location to location.”

“The slavery in the Brazilian poultry supply chain isn’t just a human rights tragedy, it’s also a trade-distorting subsidy of Brazilian exports,” said Josh Wise, IATP’s director of development and communications.  “As operators in a net importing nation, South African producers should, rightly, be sensitive to illegal and unethical practices that are undermining their domestic market access.”

The report also cited the rise in contract farming as a significant issue in Brazilian meat processing.

"As Brazil continues to gain market share in meat and poultry production they must increasingly be held accountable for the destruction that their companies are causing in the country,” Wise said.

The group also identified JBS SA and BRF SA as notable offenders. Brazilian poultry companies deny all allegations of inhumane conditions and forced labor.

BRF, a global poultry exporter based in Brazil, said in a recent statement that it “does not accept and condemns all forms of work in degrading conditions and incompatible with human dignity, which endanger workers’ health and life, such as exhausting working journeys, forced labor and debt bondage.”

During 2017, South Africa trade officials along with several other countries, suspended meat imports from Brazilian producers due to food safety concerns.

South Africa poultry has competed with larger poultry producing countries including Brazil, the United States and countries in the European Union for several years. With cheaper imports and less favored types of poultry processing, domestic producers have seen a decline in business.

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