RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s President Michel Temer said on Friday that his administration would modify a controversial decree issued earlier this week that critics say would hinder the fight against modern-day slavery.
Temer said in an interview with political news portal Poder 360 that his labor minister, Ronaldo Nogueira, had met twice this week with Attorney General Raquel Dodge – a key critic of the new labor rules – to discuss some modifications to be included in a revised decree to be published in the coming days.
“He’s received some suggestions. He’s looking at the suggestions, and it’s likely he’ll incorporate several of them,” the president said.
The International Labor Organization criticized the new rules, published Monday, saying they represented a regrettable setback that jeopardized successful initiatives of the past two decades that had made Brazil a role model in the fight against forced labor and allowed some 50,000 workers to be rescued from conditions akin to modern-day slavery.
The new rules were criticized because they narrow the definition of slavery to cases in which workers were denied freedom of movement and do not take into consideration other practices regarded as modern-day slavery by the ILO, such as degrading conditions, excessively long hours, debt bondage and acts of intimidation.
The measure also has been criticized by opposition parties, human rights activists and different artists’ collectives.
Temer said that among the suggestions that the Labor Ministry has received and which could be incorporated into revised labor rules are the creation of a special Federal Police division to assist in combating slave labor.
He said the decree was adopted because under the old rules companies could be accused of slave labor for failure to comply with rigid health requirements.
“The labor minister showed me some infractions that shocked me, like a case that was treated as slave labor because the company didn’t have a soap holder in the right place,” Temer said.
The head of state denied that the decree only considered lack of freedom of movement to constitute slavery, saying the definition also encompassed degrading work and inhumane conditions.
Several news articles have said Temer’s administration was pressured into approving the new rules by lawmakers representing the interests of rural landowners.
Those articles said Temer agreed to narrow the definition of slavery in return for legislators’ support in sparing him from standing trial before the Supreme Court on charges of obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy, allegations based on plea-deal testimony by the owners of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS.
A two-thirds majority of the lower house of Congress must vote to put the president on trial before the high court, which has jurisdiction over cases involving sitting lawmakers.
In August, a majority of the Chamber of Deputies voted not to put Temer on trial for allegedly receiving bribes from JBS dating back to 2010.