Goiás – leader in the ranking of slave labor

Image: Alexey Demidov


Last year, 739 people were rescued from servitude in the state of Goiás

Data from the Ministry of Labor and Employment, released in the second week of January 2024, indicate that the state of Goiás leads the ranking of slave-like work in Brazil. The numbers collected last year, based on records of the release of people in captivity, by inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Employment, show that 739 people were rescued in situations of servitude on Goiás soil, followed by Minas Gerais with 651 people and, closing the ominous podium, São Paulo appears with 392 people.

Still in 2023, I was in Rio Grande do Sul, in the Bento Ribeiro region, where workers were rescued from captivity after one of them managed to escape and denounce the existence of servility in the grape harvest and in the production of wine, a drink that is one of the main goods produced in the Serra Gaúcha region.

The crime of subjecting a person to work analogous to slavery is described in article 149 of the Brazilian Penal Code as being “characterized by the submission of someone to forced labor or exhaustive working hours, either subjecting them to degrading working conditions or restricting, by by any means, their transportation due to a debt contracted with the employer or his agent.” The law determines that it is a crime to subject someone to a condition of work analogous to slavery and that any person who acts to impede the right to come and go of a worker who is in this condition is also punishable by legal standard.

In addition to the Brazilian Penal Code, ordinance 1.293 of 2017 from the Ministry of Labor and Employment also provides clarifications regarding the definition and punishment regarding work that resembles slavery in the country. See what the text says: “Anyone who, in order to retain the worker: (a) restricts the use of any means of transport by the worker, is also punished with the same penalties; (b) maintains overt surveillance in the workplace; or (c) retains documents or personal objects of the worker.”.

The concept of work has been a topic that has occupied a lot of my reading and research. The references that I will make here more directly for a better fluidity of the text are in David Ricardo and also in Karl Marx, who states that work is an ineliminable dimension of human life, that is, a fundamental ontological dimension, since, through From it, human beings freely and consciously create reality, as well as allowing them to make a leap from mere organic existence to sociability. Work is fundamental to the constitution of human beings as they are. In other words, humanity and the world as we know it are constructed and mediated among other dimensions by work, producing social and individual life. But if work is something inseparable from humanity, enslaved work or that analogous to slavery is not.

plantation memories

I came into contact with the reality of slave-like work when I was still a teenager, when I lived in the south of Mato Grosso, there I was in captivity, where workers were subjected to servility. The place was under the coordination of my father, who worked as a cat, the individual responsible for recruiting workers for servitude. In that place I was able to see up close the situation of dehumanization of human beings through work.

The Brazilian countryside leads the number of people rescued from this type of servitude, highlighting the traits of the so-called conservative modernization in the country. Brazilian and Latin American agrarian capitalism are democratic when it comes to maintaining slavery or a situation that resembles it. According to the data, coffee cultivation, with 300 people, followed by sugar cane planting, with 258 individuals, were the two sectors in which the most people were freed from slavery. It is worth mentioning that reports of abuse are not limited to the countryside, as there are records that slave-like work also occurs in middle-class homes, in improvised factories, luxury condominiums, proving that that type of work is still recurrent in the Brazil.

"Work sets you free"

In “Boa Esperança”, composed by Leandro Oliveira, better known as Emicida, he reports that “Work liberates” (or not)… With this phrase, almost like the Nazis, it sweeps away the Jews – extinction”. With the idea that work builds the human being, it is possible to see how the ideology of the capitalist mode of social production captures the minds and bodies of people, who often ignore the fact that the Brazilian State is a champion when it comes to work. analogous to slavery.

Traces of conservative modernization

It was the American sociologist Barrington Moore Junior who was responsible for developing the concept of conservative modernization. Moore sought the roots of the capitalist development model in Germany and Japan, characterizing that the bourgeois revolutions in these countries would have taken place from top to bottom. For the social scientist and historian, what happened in these nations was a political pact between the bourgeoisie and the landowners, so that there would be a modernization in the configuration of the State without structural changes in the ruling class.

In time, it is worth highlighting, as Pires, MJ de S., & Ramos, P. (2017) point out, that national thinkers use the term conservative modernization, most of the time without due historical and critical mediations, which is why it is necessary caution when transposing a concept created from a given social reality to another, with specific characteristics, as is the Brazilian case. Having made this point, it is clear that the way in which racial capitalism developed in Brazil, based on a dependent, unequal and combined basis, maintained the land structure, created over the centuries, legally consolidated by the State through the Land Law. (1850), maintaining land concentration mainly in large agricultural exploration units.

This criminal pact between the State, the landowners and the nascent local bourgeoisie did not constitute a change in the political power relations of the national State. This situation, which began during the process of “full slavery” (1530 -1850) and also during “late slavery” (1850 -1888) (Clóvis Moura), shows that the existence of work analogous to slavery is fundamental to the regime of capitalist accumulation, especially in the specific form of Brazilian racial capitalism.

It is important to highlight that there is no moral criticism of capitalism, as the criticism must be material. The super-exploitation of people through work analogous to slavery, and when reading both Marx and Ruy Mauro Marini (1969), it is clear that the intensity of work, the lengthening of the working day (a measure effected either by the forced maintenance of the worker in the bosses' house) or of the worker in the field, without receiving anything for it) and the appropriation made by capital of the labor consumption fund, constitute an increase in the rate of exploitation of the workforce, as conceptualized by Karl Marx himself (2013) in The capital.

Slave-like work is perpetuated through brutal exploitation and destroys any idea of ​​humanity. That is why we do not see notes of repudiation from entities representing the dominant sectors of society, such as FIEG (Federation of Industries of the State of Goiás) or the Brazilian Rural Society, regarding the exorbitant increase in the number of rescued workers. of slave-like work. In the logic of Brazilian racial capitalism of unequal and combined development, everything is a commodity, especially the workforce, so if it is enslaved, it is better for the accumulation regime.

It is clear that as Angela Davis points out, there is no freedom when there is need. Because people who are taken to be subjected to servitude are most often in a situation of extreme need, that even job offers that prove dangerous to their own lives are accepted.

The meme below is an illustration of this:

Both Ruy Mauro Marini and Karl Marx make concrete analyzes of the concrete situation, both bring notes that enable a critical view of data from the Ministry of Labor and Employment, however there is a particularity to think about the Brazilian case: racial capitalism of uneven and combined development which is established in the tropics, which further intensifies relations of exploitation, resulting in super-exploitation of the workforce, and this category of super-exploitation also has the black body as its preferential target, as it is black people who are most subjected to the work similar to slavery.

It is evident from this that, in economic terms, racism is a valuable weapon in carrying out the super-exploitation of labor in Brazil. And racial histories in a country of dependent racial capitalism, with uneven and combined development, are nothing more than a superstructure, a covering, a deaf ideological emanation covering an economic, social, political and psychic reality. (FANON, 2022).

Finally, it becomes clear and transparent that the driving force of racial capitalism was not the invisible hand of the market, but rather the visible currents of state-sanctioned violence, which remain to this day in “modern” forms of work in Goiás and Brazil. . The question I always ask is, until when?

*Edergênio Negreiros Vieira He is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Brasília (UnB).


Decoding Emicida – Boa Esperança, pt.1. Emicide Production. São Paulo: Laboratório Fantasma, 2018. 12'59”. Available in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi5W4m2k_6w. FANON, Frantz. For an African revolution: political texts. Trans. Carlos Alberto Medeiros. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2021.

DAVIS, Angela. Freedom is a constant struggle. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

Pires, MJ de S., & Ramos, P. (2017). O term conservative modernization: its origin and use in Brazil. Northeast Economic Magazine, 40(3), 411-424. https://doi.org/10.61673/ren.2009.367

MARINI, Ruy Mauro. Under development and revolution. 5. ed. Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno, 1974 [1969].  

MARX, Karl. The merchandise. In: MARX, Karl. Capital: Critique of political economy. Book I: The capital production process. Trans. Rubens Enderle. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013.

MOURA, C. Radical Dialectics of Black Brazil. São Paulo: Editora Anita Garibaldi, 2014.

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