Products derived from timber extracted by workers living in conditions analogous to slave labor in Brazil are connected to a complex business network linked to the US market -- possibly reaching the shelves of large retailers and being used in renovation of landmarks -- according to a new investigation conducted by Brazilian news outlet Repórter Brasil. After purchasing from suppliers held liable for that crime by the Brazilian government, local traders exported timber to companies likeUSFloors, which supplies the retail chain Lowe's, as well as Timber Holdings, which supplied timber for construction projects at Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
The commercial network linking retailers to sawmill companies was identified by a three-month investigation and confirmed by the companies. The wood products were mixed at Brazilian intermediaries, so the investigation was unable to track the exact destination of each piece of wood. However, its findings reveal that large retail and construction groups are sourcing the product from companies whose supply chains are contaminated by the alleged use of criminal practices, with the conditions of workers rescued from sawmill sites aligning with slave labor practices as defined by Brazilian law.
Bonardi da Amazônia
The cases investigated by Repórter Brasil began at sawmill companies based in the state of Pará -- an important hub for the timber industry in the Brazilian Amazon. One of them is Bonardi da Amazônia, a sawmill company that recruited nine people who were rescued from conditions analogous to slave labor exploitation in October 2012. The workers were located by the Brazilian Ministry of Labor and Bonardi da Amazônia was formally held responsible for the crime.
The investigation found that workers slept in shacks in the forest at night, in makeshift facilities made of logs removed from the forest itself and covered with tarps, 110 kilometers (over 68 miles) from the nearest town. There were no walls to protect them from the dangers of the forest such as snakes, scorpions and even jaguars. They bathed and washed their clothes in a stream shared with local animals; there was no bathroom. The workers had no formal contracts and told investigators they were paid based on their productivity.