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Slave labour charges filed against Brazil senator

Saturday, February 25, 2012    

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BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — A Brazilian senator who allegedly kept workers in slave-like conditions will be tried by the country's Supreme Court.

The high court said on its website yesterday that it will rule on the charges filed by the federal attorney general against Senator Joao Ribeiro, who allegedly kept more than 30 workers in miserable conditions on his ranch in the Amazon jungle state of Para.

As a senator, Ribeiro can only be tried by Brazil's highest court.

In 2004, Labour Ministry inspectors found 35 workers on Ribeiro's ranch working 78 hours a week with no medical assistance, no days off and living in "subhuman" conditions.

The inspectors found that the workers racked up debts to the ranch for the food and equipment it sold to them. The owed money was deducted from their wages.

Ending up permanently indebted, the workers were unable to leave the ranch and return to their homes.

However, the senator has said the workers were never stopped from leaving his property.

Slave-like working conditions are common in many parts of Brazil where poor labourers are often lured into arduous jobs where they rack up debts to plantation and factory owners who charge exorbitant prices for everything from food to transportation.

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