Brazil's unelected President Michel Temer has been urged to speed up land distribution to farmers to protect them from slavery after a landmark court decision ordered the government to compensate more than 100 workers enslaved at a cattle ranch.
A United Nations official said Brazil had fallen behind in the past two years in its efforts to combat modern slavery.
Antonio Carlos Rosa, from the U.N.'s International Labor Organization, ILO, said rural citizens — and especially landless residents — are at a higher risk of suffering slavery in the form of forced labor, debt bondage, sex slavery and human trafficking.
"Distributing land to rural people is an effective way to break the vicious cycle that makes people vulnerable to forced labor," said Rosa.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled last month that Brazil must pay US$5 million in compensation to 125 workers who were treated like slaves at a ranch in the state of Para.
The court said workers did not receive promised pay, proper food or shelter between 1988 and 2000. Workers were prevented from fleeing by armed security guards and only able to escape after a government raid.
"This decision is symbolic and very important," Rosa told Reuters. "The government will be responsible for paying compensation. This is new in Brazil."
The official also said the government was no longer publishing a list of companies that are profiting from slavery and using forced labor.
More than 50,000 people have been freed from slavery-type conditions in Brazil since 1995 according to the ILO, and 21 million people globally are trapped in forced labor.
More than 161,000 people in Brazil are living in modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index and nearly half of Brazil's rural land is in the hands of less than 1 percent of the population, according to Oxfam.