An investigation conducted by NGO Reporter Brasil has revealed that at least one in every 10 Brazilian politicians has received campaign donations from businesses tied to "modern-day slave practices."
President Michel Temer, as well as five governors, state secretaries, and political party leaders elected to parliament, are listed among the 51 politicians who received donations from firms accused of human rights abuses.
During the last general election, the accused politicians received up to US$6.4 million from these companies, according to the report.
The Guardian says Temer's election committee received approximately US$216,000 from OAS, a Brazilian construction firm convicted of maintaining 111 workers in a condition analogous to slavery during the expansion of Sao Paulo airport.
Xavier Plassat, a leader of the Pastoral Land Commission, said: "This is just one in an ocean of shocking practices exposed during Temer’s administration."
While Brazil's electoral commission neither forbids nor criminalizes campaign donations, the recent report underscores the cozy relationship between politicians and companies linked to clear human rights abuses under both Brazilian and international law.
Brazilian law defines "slave-like labor" based on four criteria: being forced to work; being obliged to work to pay off debts; degrading conditions that put workers' health or dignity at risk, and an excessive workload that threatens workers' health.
Twenty-one of the 51 parliament members identified by authorities as having received donations from companies linked to slave labor practices are members of the very influential rural caucus in Congress, according to The Guardian.
Lobbyists from this group have repeatedly tried to curb attempts at combatting slave labor in Brazil.
Last year they backed a decree which redefined slavery as being confined to "restrictions on the freedom of movement" of workers. However, experts noted that such a reformulation pushes the country back to May 13, 1888, when the legalities of slavery were abolished in Brazil, the last country in the Western hemisphere to do so.
Another point in the decree that provoked widespread outrage was the newfound discretion of the Labor Ministry to divulge or disclose the names of companies involved in slave labor practices.
The Temer administration had previously argued that "serious deviations" can result from going overboard with worker appeals, citing a case where an employer was allegedly intimidated, insulted and beaten by employees for not having put a soap dish in staff bathrooms.
Following the report by Repórter Brasil, the president issued a statement saying he was unaware of the company's slave labor case and other human right abuses.
They said the "money was passed on to other candidates" and denied that the donations had any influence over Temer's political decisions.
OAS has yet to comment on the report.