Brazil court upholds $3m 'slave labour' fine on firm

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A Brazilian court has upheld a fine of nearly $3m (£1.93m) on a company accused of keeping people as slave labourers on its ranches for years.

The fine is the biggest imposed for employing slave labour, the Supreme Labour Tribunal said in a statement.

Among 180 employees freed from the firm's two ranches in the state of Para in 1998 were several adolescents.

It is estimated some 25,000 people in Brazil still work in conditions that amount to slave labour.

In its ruling, the TST upheld a decision by a lower court to impose a financial penalty on Lima Araujo Agropecuaria, the firm that owns the ranches in the Amazonian state.

Confirming the fine of 5m reais ($2.8m), Judge Luiz Philippe Vieira de Mello Filho said it should serve as an example not only for the company in question but to all guilty of exploiting workers.

He said the company's premises had been raided on five occasions between 1998 and 2002.

The company's behaviour, the judge said, was "absolutely reprehensible, a direct attack on and affront to people's dignity".

This included not giving them water, keeping them in mud huts without sanitation and denying sick workers medical treatment.

Debt slavery is found especially in Brazil's Amazon. Poor workers are lured to plantations where they then incur debts to owners which they cannot pay off.

The Brazilian government launched a national plan in 2002 to eradicate slavery.

Government agents last year rescued some 3,000 workers across Brazil.

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