For hundreds of years, Amazonian communities have supported themselves through natural resources: growing, gathering and trading produce to feed their families. As Peru’s economy has grown however, more and more local resources have been harvested for industry. Vegetation that once sustained people’s livelihoods is disappearing at an alarming rate, threatening widespread poverty among those who cannot find an alternative means of support.
Out of desperation to support large families, more individuals are looking to options for work outside their community within the expanding economy. It may be argued that the growth of formal industry can bring valuable new opportunities for community development. However, there is no doubt that ever-growing demand for work is increasingly opening up channels for exploitation through access to cheap and easy labor. One industry notoriously rife with corruption and exploitation is logging.
The jungle region of Madre de Dios makes up over 40,000 hectares, designated by the Peruvian government for logging and harvesting brazil nuts. The remoteness of the region and expanse of forest have made it easier for illegal logging companies to enter protected areas unlawfully and establish illegitimate work sites. Companies then set up attractive hooks to target and lure vulnerable men and women into exploitative jobs.
“People take the work willingly because they are hungry, in many cases their children are malnourished. They have no other options,” explained Ricardo Dawson, Not For Sale Peru Director.
Men are commonly offered work on the camps in manual labor, women as chefs or laundresses. Once recruited, however, they are forced to work for little or no pay, and in the case of women, into prostitution. In 2004, for example, the ILO reported a tally of around 33,000 victims of slavery through illegal logging in the Amazon, resulting from coercive tactics such as the ‘bait and switch’ approach used by these companies.
Although illegal activity and worker abuses in logging are blatant and widely documented, there is often very little action taken against these illicit agencies. Camps are often ‘hidden’ from authorities, located in inaccessible locations and patrolled by heavily armed personnel. In the past, companies have been reported to use violent means in order to defend themselves from investigation. As a result, the success of law enforcement to curb this problem has been limited.
In response, Not For Sale is using the positive forces of the international market to benefit the poor and vulnerable. “Our goal is provide tools for development that can bring alternatives to those routes leading people to exploitation,” says Dawson. “This means cultivating local resources that exist in abundance, plants and bark like Cat’s Claw for example, to bridge communities to the industries from which they are currently being by-passed. In this way, we invite communities to contribute and benefit from the economy growing around them”.
In 2012, Not For Sale collaborated with local leaders to support over 500 individuals in 77 communities, through a range of services, including professional skills training and higher education to help establish a diversified range of income opportunities within the community, for otherwise vulnerable individuals.
Not For Sale is currently investigating ways to help Amazonian communities can gain greater access to rights over land, to help protect areas currently at risk from further threat of illegal logging.
To make significant impact for the future, we must act now. You can help Not For Sale continue to develop opportunities for men, women and children at risk to exploitation, and prevent further instances of slavery in the Amazon by giving today.