Brazil government backs off weakening slave labor laws

(Reuters) - Brazil’s government issued a decree backtracking on plans to weaken the definition of slave labor in response to criticism and a court suspension of the original edict, according to the official government gazette on Friday.

The revised decree undid changes to the definition involving exhaustive working hours and degrading work conditions and also removed limitations on the publication of a “dirty list” of employers subjecting workers to conditions similar to slavery.

Human rights groups had criticized the original mid-October decree, backed by Brazil’s powerful farm lobby, which narrowed the definition of slave labor to limiting the ability of workers to move freely while disregarding other abuses.

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

Rights groups estimate hundreds of thousands of people work in slave-like conditions on farms, sugar cane plantations and cattle ranches across Brazil’s remote and jungle areas, as well as in urban factories and construction sites.

Temer said in late October that the government would reissue the decree with revisions in response to the criticism. Days later, the Supreme Court suspended the decree, saying it violated the constitution.

Outgoing Labor Minister Ronaldo Nogueira issued the latest decree, dated Oct. 28, one day after submitting his resignation. He is waiting to be officially replaced by Temer.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio De Janeiro and Jake Spring in Florianopolis, Brazil; Editing by Steve Orlofsky