SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – Bolivian newspaper El Deber investigated claims of semi-slavery and exploitation of around 115,000 Bolivian immigrants in illegal textiles workshops in São Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The governments of the three countries are taking action to address the situation.
The Argentinian government has opened a new business register to put an end to exploitation, while Brazilian police arrested two Bolivians accused of exploiting their fellow countrymen, in the first international criminal investigation of the situation.
A Bolivian worker can be bought for US$300 dollars in Brazil’s human trafficking market, revealed Rafael Quispe, who managed to escape from an illegal textiles workshop in São Paulo, according to El Deber, by jumping from the second floor of the building.
Quispe’s case is the typical one. He was duped by a man in Santa Cruz's train station who offered him US$500 a month to work in Brazil. When he crossed the border, the man told him that the company supposed to hire him had gone bankrupt. He then took Quispe to São Paulo with other Bolivians, where he “sold” them to employers for US$300 each.
After he escaped, Quispe returned to Bolivia and told the police what had happened to him. According to District Attorney Joadel Bravo, the human trafficking networks have links in Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Deputy Wálter Arrázola took the case and told La Prensa that it would be tried as an international case.
According to the Bolivian consul in São Paulo, Rosa Virginia Cardona, there are more then 15,000 Bolivians living in conditions of semi-slavery in the city. A seamstress earns an average of US$0.15 for each garment she makes, which can cost between US$40 and US$200 dollars in stores.
In Buenos Aires, Bolivian consul Alberto González says the situation is not much better, alleging that there may be up to 20,000 workshops and more than 100,000 exploited textiles workers in the city. In response, the Argentinian government has implemented the “Buenos Aires Produce” plan, which requires textiles workshops to improve labor conditions. They have also declared a labor and infrastructure emergency in small textiles companies to encourage their legitimization. However, company owners point out that the Bolivian workers do not want to pay for retirement or health insurance benefits.