On February 22, 2023, police rescued 207 workers from the vineyards of Bento Gonçalves, a city in southern Brazil. The men were victims of forced labor and subjected to degrading conditions and physical violence. Although they had been promised free room and board as well as a decent wage, their situation soon turned dark.
The workers were forced to work 15-hour shifts, often without rest and with little food. Guards watched them at night to keep them from leaving and threatened them with beatings and electric shocks if they complained or hesitated. Some of the workers had bruises and scratches from the guards’ assaults.
The 207 rescued workers were men between the ages of 18 and 54 who had been brought there by the company Servicios Fenix, which provided workers to three of Brazil’s largest wine producers, Aurora, Garibaldi, and Salton. These producers issued statements denying knowledge of the exploitation and holding Servicios Fenix responsible.
The rescue operation began after three workers escaped from the site and alerted the authorities. Police confiscated tasers and pepper spray canisters during the raid. Workers made similar complaints to the police, and national headlines echoed the events.
After the rescue, Fenix Services issued a statement announcing that it was “investigating the allegations” and would take “all necessary steps to address any wrongdoing.” The winemakers also agreed to pay the equivalent of US$1.4 million in compensation to the affected workers.
This case, known as the “wine slaves” case, is not an isolated case of modern slavery in Brazil. Slave labor continues to be a problem in Brazil, with thousands of people working in similar conditions.
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