RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Brazilian meat packers must clean up their supply chains, labor experts said on Tuesday, after an investigation showed six companies had bought cattle from ranches that used meat. forced labor.

Brazilian company JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processors, bought cattle from two ranches that later ended up on Brazil’s ‘dirty list’ of companies that employed slave labor , the anti-slavery rights group Reporter Brasil said this week.

JBS said it banned both companies once they were on the dirty list, but it was unfair to expect JBS to stop working with ranches facing allegations of forced labor from inspectors , because these companies also had the right to defend their actions.

“Reporter Brasil is asking JBS … to block producers based on inspections alone (which) … would be a disregard for this producer’s right of defense before public authorities,” JBS told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. in a press release.

In Brazil, employers whose workers have been rescued by labor inspectors are allowed to defend themselves before a panel, which is part of the economy ministry, and appeal against slavery charges.

The company is only added to the dirty list – one of Brazil’s most powerful anti-slavery tools, currently with 114 names on it – if found guilty by the panel.

Brazil exports billions of dollars worth of beef each year and its meat processing industry has been repeatedly criticized for poor working conditions.

Under Brazilian law, forced labor is defined as a form of modern slavery that includes degrading working conditions and long hours that pose a risk to the health or life of workers and violate their dignity.

Companies on the blacklist cannot receive loans from the state and are subject to restrictions on their sales. The list is also used by private banks to assess credit risk and by international buyers concerned about their supply chains.

Meat packers cannot rely on the dirty list alone to ensure clean supply chains, said Xavier Plassat, who leads the Pastoral Lands Commission’s anti-slavery campaign.

He said the list only included the names of those “unlucky enough to get caught” by labor inspectors and that slavery in the meat industry was widespread.

Other companies cited in Reporter Brasil’s investigation were third-party slavery-buying cattle from ranches that bought their cattle from blacklisted ranches.

“The control by the meatpackers (…) does not take into account who supplies their suppliers,” Plassat said.

“Slave labor is always invisible.”

Legally, it is difficult to hold meat packers accountable for buying cattle raised by forced labor, said Lys Sobral Cardoso, Brazil’s top anti-slavery labor prosecutor.

“We need to map the whole supply chain and then build a legal argument to hold those at the top accountable,” Cardoso said. “It’s still something we’re discussing how to do it.”

Reporting by Fabio Teixeira @ffctt; Editing by Katy Migriro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which spans the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org

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