Brazil's top court suspends controversial slavery decree

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s Supreme Court has suspended a decree issued by President Michel Temer’s government changing the definition of slavery that was widely condemned as a reversal in the fight against forced labor.

In her decision taken on Monday and made public on Tuesday, Justice Rosa Weber said the decree’s reduction of the scope of what is considered slave labor violated the constitution.

Weber also argued that the measure could hurt Brazil’s trade relations since other countries could complain that slave labor was a form of unfair competition.

Faced with an outpouring of criticism, the government said on Friday that it would pull the decree and issue a new one.

In Brazil, forced labor has been defined as a form of modern-day slavery. This includes debt bondage, degrading work conditions, and long work hours that pose a risk to a worker’s health or life, and violate their dignity.

Human rights campaigners said the decree issued by the labor ministry on Monday changed the way slavery was defined, limiting it to a victim’s freedom of movement but disregarding other abuses.

The decree, supported by Brazil’s powerful farm lobby, would derail enforcement efforts that have freed 50,000 workers from slavery-like conditions since 1995, federal prosecutors and labor inspectors said.

Temer opponents said he bowed to pressure from the farm lobby to modify the decree at a time when he is relying on the group’s votes in Congress on Wednesday to block corruption charges against him.

“In exchange for support to escape a criminal trial, Temer promised the farm lobby goods he cannot deliver,” said lawmaker Alessandro Molon of the leftist Sustainability Network, the party that asked the court to stop the decree.

Molon called the slave labor decree one the most “abject bargains” in the country’s history.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle; Editing by James Dalgleish