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Brazilian officials rescue workers in slave-like conditions

By Helena de Moura, CNN
  • 95 people were rescued in Rio de Janeiro and 51 in Minas Gerais, the labor ministry says
  • Many were minors, officials say
  • Workers had no basic sanitation and were exposed to pesticides
  • Brazil

(CNN) -- Brazilian officials have said they will continue to crack down on farms accused of forcing workers into slave-like conditions, the country's labor ministry said after authorities rescued nearly 150 workers.

Brazil's labor ministry announced it had coordinated with law enforcement agencies to rescue 95 workers in Campo de Goytacazes, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and 51 workers in Cambui, in the Minas Gerais state.

In Minas Gerais, the 51 rescued strawberry pickers included adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17, ministry officials said in a statement on its website.

In Rio de Janeiro, the 95 rescued sugarcane harvesters had been denied basic sanitation, water and were carted around in dangerous modes of transport, the ministry said.

Officials added both rescue operations took place in August.

According to ministry officials, both sets of workers were toiling under inhumane conditions around the clock without breaks. The workers were exposed to high level of pesticides. Many were minors, the ministry said.

The employers of the rescued workers will be fined, the labor ministry said, though it was not immediately clear whether criminal charges would be pressed.

According to Reporter Brasil, a Brazilian anti-slavery reporting agency, recent crackdowns have exposed several high-profile sugarcane and soy landowners, resulting in the freeing of hundreds of slaves. Reporter Brasil has said that in 2010 more than 200 slaves have been freed in Rio de Janeiro alone.

At least 12.3 million people around the world are trapped in forced labor, according to the Geneva-based International Labor Organization. Brazil's large-scale agriculture, a colonial style system where a few families own huge swaths of land, makes it difficult for authorities to crack down on slavery, the ILO reports.