Brazil: Knowing Rights Strengthens Farm Workers

Brazil farmer

Maria Dalva is the leader of a group of 54 farmers in the state of Para, Brazil. With the support of CRS partner Pastoral Land Commission, Maria has been able to inform her group of their rights and negotiate fair wages. Photo by CRS staff

The following story was written by a CRS’ program manager in South America to offer a window to the lives of the people you help through CRS.

By Rogenir Costa CRS Brazil

Maria Dalva is the leader of a group of 54 farm workers in the state of Para, Brazil. People living in rural areas in Brazil are prone to be taken advantage of by landowners and in most severe cases, to be victims of modern-day slavery – living in precarious conditions and accumulating debt.

Catholic Relief Services is engaged in the eradication of slavery in Brazil, which is also a priority of the local Church and its Pastoral Land Commission (CPT, in Portuguese). The commission has developed various campaigns to inform people in vulnerable communities about their rights and negotiate fair wages.

“When we arrived the farmers of the region reached an agreement among them, to pay a daily rate and low cost, $25. From the activities made by the CPT clarifying our rights, [we negotiated so] the value of our income would increase to $35.00,” says Maria, 42.

According to Maria, there have not been recent cases of slave labor, mainly because the workers are informed about their rights. They also have the option to organize following a cooperative model in order to access land.

“Some people work on farms in the region,” Maria says. “We are already producing an area of 10 acres in the collective system. When we are out of production, we work outside scraping cassava, producing oil and mowing grass.”

Maria leaned about the campaign Slavery No Way because the CPT approached the union of rural workers of the city of Marabá, where she serves in the women’s secretariat. The CPT provided pamphlets and posters that she was able to share with the members of her community. She also attended meetings with leaders from other rural communities. Maria says the lectures opened her eyes.

“The lack of information made us blind,” Maria says. “Access to information generates action. Today, I have a different view in relation to slave labor and workers’ rights. I acquired knowledge to guide my fellow workers about how to defend our rights. The employer will only respect us when he knows that we know our rights.”

Maria hopes to create two settlement projects (PA, in Portuguese) in the area. Her goal is to strengthen them as a group of family farmers, involving her children, her husband and all workers in that process. After all, she is the daughter of a farmer and grew up in the country.

“I am in love with the land,” Maria says. “I love to plant, nurture and harvest.”

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