Countries Where Cattle and/or Beef are Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor

Cattle Commodity Risk Map
  • Bolivia (FL)

  • Botswana (FL)

  • Brazil (FL, CL)

  • Brazil (CL) (Beef)

  • Chad (FL, CL)

  • Costa Rica (CL)

  • Ethiopia (CL)

  • Kenya (FL)

  • Lesotho (FL, CL)

  • Malawi (FL)

  • Mauritania (FL, CL)

  • Namibia (FL, CL)

  • Niger (FL)

  • Paraguay (FL)

  • South Sudan (FL, CL)


  • Swaziland (FL)

  • Tanzania (FL)

  • Uganda (FL, CL)

  • Zambia (CL)

Where are cattle and beef products reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

According to the U.S. Department of State 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, forced labor or forced child labor is noted in cattle production in Botswana, Chad, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda.[1]

The 2016 U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, notes forced labor in cattle ranching and herding in Bolivia, Brazil, Niger, Paraguay, and South Sudan as well as child labor in Brazil, Chad, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mauritania, Namibia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia.[2] Beef has also been found to have been produced with child labor in Brazil.[3]

Botswana, Brazil, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Paraguay, Uganda, and Zambia are listed as Tier 2 countries by the U.S. Department of State 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report. Bolivia, Costa Rica, Niger, Swaziland, and Tanzania are Tier 2 Watch List countries. Mauritania and South Sudan are Tier 3 countries.[4]

[1] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2015.

[2] U.S. Department of Labor. 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2014.

[3] U.S. Department of Labor. 2016 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2016.

[4] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2015.

What does trafficking and/or child labor in cattle ranching look like?

Labor trafficking in cattle ranching varies from country to country.

In some countries, such as Chad, children are involved in herding family cattle and the U.S. Department of State reports that some of these children may be victims of forced labor as some children may be sold in markets.[5] Children may be sold by their parents into cattle herding as a means of earning small amounts of money. Boys from Angola are reportedly trafficked within the Namibian cattle herding sector.[6] In Botswana, some children from poor families in isolated rural communities may migrate to live with wealthier extended family members and some of their work may include cattle herding. These children may be treated worse than other children living in the household, and may be excluded from educational opportunities, physically confined, or otherwise abused.[7]

Children are often engaged in herding, which involves keeping groups of animals together, and is common in pastoral agricultural and nomadic societies. Livestock tasks tend to be distributed along gender lines: cattle herding is generally a task for men and boys, and herding activities can begin as young as five years of age. Culturally, herding is viewed as an opportunity to contribute to family income and to earn income. Herding is one of the tasks most associated with child labor in the cattle and livestock sectors. Children may also participate in other tasks such as  animal husbandry, slaughter, milk processing, meat processing and leather preparation. While light work accompanying family members may be appropriate, working with cattle can carry a variety of health and safety risks. These include animal-related disease, long hours in extreme weather conditions, dust inhalation, confrontation with cattle raiders, injuries from handing livestock and tools, and musculoskeletal disorders.[8]

Trafficking in cattle herding can be associated with inherited slavery. In Mauritania, inherited slavery may force individuals to work as unpaid cattle herders. Botswanan officials have confirmed instances of forced labor involving children and Adults belonging to the San, a minority ethnic group in Botswana. The U.S. Department of State also reported that San and Zemba children in Namibia are at increased risk to trafficking vulnerability.[9]

There is evidence that children ages 5 to 17 are engaged in cattle raising in Costa Rica. A 2015 analysis by international organizations of the Government of Costa Rica’s National Household Survey (ENAHO) 2011 indicates that 13.8 percent of child laborers in the country, or 2,230 children ages 5 to 14, were engaged in cattle raising, which includes dairy. The ENAHO 2011 counts as child labor all work performed by a child below age 15. In addition, the analysis indicates that 9.3 percent of working adolescents, or 2,905 adolescents ages 15 to 17, were also engaged in cattle raising.[10]

In Bolivia, the International Labor Organization (ILO), Verité, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have documented the existence of debt peonage on cattle ranches in the Bolivian Chaco.[11] Indigenous Guarani are the main victims of human trafficking in Bolivia, as they work on the plantations or ranches of large landowners, with family labor arrangements often going back generations. Low rates of payment often result in debt bondage or peonage. However, because the beef and agricultural goods produced in this system are destined for the domestic rather than the international market, this matter has received little attention globally. In 2010 and 2011, Verité conducted research on indicators of forced labor in cattle production in the Chaco region of Bolivia. Researchers found the presence of indicators including the threat of physical violence, sexual violence, and loss of social status, as well as excessive working hours, lack of days off, subminimum wages, hazards to worker health, and child labor. In the Chaco region of Bolivia, the indigenous Guaraní who work on haciendas or as self-employed cattle ranchers on communal lands are particularly vulnerable. Researchers found that many wage workers are indebted to their employers, causing confinement to the worksite and withholding of wages. Workers are also paid well below the minimum wage and are susceptible to injuries from slash and burn agricultural techniques. Indicators of forced labor are also present for self-employed workers who work on communal lands. For these workers, excessive hours are compulsory especially in the area of animal husbandry which requires daily work without rest. Those who do not work are subject to removal from the community which would include loss of social status, land, job or even their home. Because work is done as a family unit on these communal lands, child labor is an extremely common practice.[12]

Verité conducted a case study analyzing labor broker practices in the United States among Chilean migrant sheep and cattle herders. These labor brokers were found to be exploitative, engaging in practices that indicated trafficking, including charging recruitment fees, requiring workers to borrow large sums of money to secure employment, document retention, and providing deceptive job descriptions. Workers were not made aware of the policies and procedures surrounding their visas and often were not informed about their immigration status. These Chilean cattle and sheep herders experienced a lack of freedom of movement, including being expected to stay on ranch premises 24 hours a day, working excessive hours, and not receiving days off from work. Workers also reported dangerous working conditions on their jobsites and had limited recourse if they became ill or injured. These workers reported that had they known the genuine conditions of their employment, they would not have accepted jobs from these labor brokers. Verité research indicated that this level of exploitation is largely dependent upon the use of labor agents to recruit shepherds and cattle herders.[13]

As in other goods produced in Brazil, labor trafficking results from young men being brought by brokers to rural plantations where they then enter into debt bondage. Cattle ranching may encompass a variety of activities, from clearing land for pasture to monitoring livestock to handling the production of goods. Cattle ranches are one of the only sources of stable employment in many of Brazil’s regions, attracting a large labor force. However, in part due to lack of other viable employment options, this labor force is largely vulnerable to trafficking. “Weak land regulation, the appropriation of public land through forged land titles and the permanent deforestation of new areas in the forest are commonplace,” making the identification and elimination of forced labor challenging.[14] CNN reported poor working conditions on these ranches, including lack of access to clean water and sanitation and lack of adequate housing facilities. One Labor Ministry inspector described the conditions as “degrading conditions, with an exhausting work schedule, eating one meal a day, while they don’t receive any form of salary or a very small one, because their food and tools are discounted…. They are being treated, without any exaggeration, like animals. Sleeping in the same corral as the cattle.”[15]

[5] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016.

[6] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016.

[7] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016.

[8] Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).  Children’s Work in the Livestock Sector: Herding and Beyond. 2012.

[9] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016.

[10] Department of Labor. List of Goods Produced with Child Labor and Forced Labor 2016: Costa Rica.

[11] Garcia, Eduardo. “Bolivian Guarani Resist Forced Labor on Ranches.” Reuters.  June 19, 2008.

International Labor Organization (ILO). A Global Alliance against Forced Labour: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. 2005.

Verité. Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chains of Brazil-Nuts, Cattle, Corn, and Peanuts in Bolivia.

[12] Verité. Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chains of Brazil-Nuts, Cattle, Corn, and Peanuts in Bolivia.

[13] Verité. “Help Wanted: Immigrant Workers in US Agriculture: The Role of Labor Brokers in Vulnerability to Forced Labor.” June 2010.é-Report_Migrant-Workers-in-the-United-States.pdf

[14] Costa, Patricía Trindade Maranhão. Fighting Forced Labor: The Example of Brazil. Geneva: International Labor Office. 2009.—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_111297.pdf

[15] Shasta Darlington, Flora Charner and Miguel Castro. “Slavery in the Amazon: Thousands forced to work on Brazil’s cattle ranches.” CNN. May 11, 2017.

Cattle Production and Supply Chain

The United States is the “largest fed-cattle industry in the world,” and although the United States is one of the largest producers of beef, it is a net beef importer. Most beef produced and exported from the United States is grain-fed, high quality cuts. Most beef that the United States imports is lower value, grass-fed beef used mainly for processing, primarily as ground beef.[16] The only country that is both a major exporter of beef to the United States and for which there is documented evidence of forced or child labor is Brazil. However, the United States is a comparatively minor trade partner for this product, as the most common destinations for Brazilian beef are Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Angola.[17] According to 2013 numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States imports beef and veal mostly from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Mexico. The United States exports beef and veal to Japan, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea.[18]

Calf Cow Operators:

The beef supply chain begins with farmers, known as cow-calf operators, who keep cows to produce calves that they then sell. Following a nine-month gestational period, calves are raised by calf cow operators until they are roughly a year old and weighing in at 400 to 500 pounds. At this point, yearling cows are sold to “feeders,” companies that purchase young cows to feed to harvest weight, approximately 1,200 to 1,400 pounds.


The time it takes for yearlings to reach harvest weight depends on the type of feed used by farmers; cows who eat grain feed take approximately six months to reach harvest weight whereas grass-fed cows take approximately nine months to reach harvest weight. At the point of reaching harvest weight, these cows are referred to as “fed cattle.”

Packaging Plants:

Fed cattle are sold by feeders to processing plants to harvest for beef production, when cows are 18-24 months old. Packing plants slaughter cattle and then distribute beef to subsequent levels of processing plants, where the meat production is finished before distribution to retailers. In total, it takes more than two years for a cow to come to market. Each step of this supply chain process must turn a profit to remain viable and contains huge amounts of worker involvement.[19]

[16] U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cattle & Beef. May 26, 2012.

[17] Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Statistics Division (FAOSTAT). FAOSTAT Database: Food and Agricultural Commodities Production /Countries by Commodity. 2012.

[18] U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beef and Veal: Annual and Cumulative Year-to-Date US Trade. July 3, 2013. to Date_US_Livestock_and_Meat_Trade_by_Country/BeefVeal_Yearly.pdf

[19] Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions. “The Beef Supply Chain” March 3, 2014.

How do Trafficking and/or Child Labor in Cattle Production Affect Me?

Products from cattle ranching include beef and leather. Leather is used in a variety of consumer goods from shoes to couches.

Cattle Production and Environmental Degradation


Raising cattle for consumer consumption can have negative environmental impacts, especially in terms of deforestation. Environmental organizations have reported that the increased demand for beef have greatly increased deforestation rates, claiming that the beef industry is responsible for twice has much deforestation globally than palm oil, timber and soy sectors combined.[20] In the Amazon region, cattle ranching may account for over 80 percent of deforestation. Verité research has linked environmental degradation to increased trafficking risk, particularly as it displaces local populations and disrupts traditional livelihoods and subsistence strategies.

[20] Leon Kaye. Reports Praise Corporate Progress on Deforestation, But Much Work Lies Ahead.” Triple Pundit. March 15, 2017.


What Governments, Corporations, and Others are Doing

Brazil has often been cited as an example of effective government action against forced labor. In March 2003, Brazil’s President launched a National Plan for the Elimination of Slave Labor, and the government has cooperated since 2002 with an ILO program on forced labor. The Brazilian Government publishes a “Dirty List” of employers caught exploiting their workers. This naming and shaming practice effective, however, in recent years the publication of the lists has been repeatedly delayed and prevented.[21] In 2016, the list contained 360 companies which employed their workers in exploitative or slave-like conditions on farms, in sweatshops, on cattle ranches, and more.[22] In past years, cattle ranching accounts for over 60 percent of the companies on the “dirty list” of groups using forced labor.[23] The Brazil Government is attempting to crack down on trafficking; Inspectors, federal police and prosecutors government sponsored “mobile units,” who over the past decade have followed up on tips and performed routine inspections.[24] In 2009, Brazil passed the G4 Cattle Agreement, in which four of Brazil’s largest meatpacking companies, JBS, Marfrig, Minerva, and Bertin, signed a zero-deforestation agreement with NGO Greenpeace. This agreement included monitoring provisions and prohibited these meat producers from working with cattle ranches involved in deforestation or other illegal activities.[25] In 2011, the state of Sao Paulo created a Commission for the Eradication of Forced Labor.[26] In addition, the government has created a National Pact for the Elimination of Slavery, which brings the government, the ILO, NGOs, and companies together to combat forced labor. Over 130 companies have signed on, including large companies such as Wal-Mart Brazil, thereby committing not to buy products derived from forced labor.[27]

 In December of 2016, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Brazilian Government to pay $5 million in reparations to 128 workers who were formerly enslaved on a Brazilian cattle ranch between 1988 and 2000. These 128 men were among the 340 individuals rescued during raids conducted Brazilian Ministry of Work on Fazenda Brasil Verde, a ranch owned by Quagliato Brothers group, one of Brazil’s largest cattle ranching companies. Officials found evidence of debt bondage, trafficking, inadequate food and shelter, and nonpayment of salaries. Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Brazilian Government had failed to adequately prevent slavery through public policy, legislation and other government measures. Brazil is the first country to be fined for lack of slavery prevention by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the judicial branch of the Organization of American States (OAS), a political association comprising all 35 states within the American continents.[28]

In 2016, the Government of the Republic of Namibia launched an initiative to assist in the prevention of human trafficking. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, this three-year project which seeks to facilitate collaboration between the Namibian Government, the International Organization for Migration, and civil society. This initiative was born in part from the 2015 U.S. State Department report, which listed Namibia as a country of both origin and destination for child trafficking and, to a lesser extent, the trafficking of adults, in sectors including agriculture, cattle herding, domestic service and prostitution.[29]

[21] Shasta Darlington, Flora Charner and Miguel Castro. “Slavery in the Amazon: Thousands forced to work on Brazil’s cattle ranches.” CNN. May 11, 2017.

[22] Anastasia Moloney. “Modern Day Slavery in Brazil: 340 Brazilian Companies Blacklisted For Forced Labor Conditions.” Reuters. February 15, 2016.

[23] Costa, Patricía Trindade Maranhão. Fighting Forced Labor: The Example of Brazil. Geneva: International Labor Office. 2009.—ed_norm/—declaratwas tion/documents/publication/wcms_111297.pdf

[24] Shasta Darlington, Flora Charner and Miguel Castro. “Slavery in the Amazon: Thousands forced to work on Brazil’s cattle ranches.” CNN. May 11, 2017.

[25] “A Path Toward Zero Deforestation Cattle.” 2015.

[26] U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Brazil.

U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy. Human Rights and Labor. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2014.

[27] Reporter Brasil. Signatários do Pacto Nacional pela Erradicação do Trabalho Esctavo.

[28] Anna Gross “Brazil ordered to pay $5m to workers formerly enslaved on cattle ranch.” The Guardian. January 9, 2017.

[29] International Organization for Migration. “IOM, Namibia Launch Initiative to Combat Human Trafficking.” April 12, 2016.


Watch a video from Al Jazeera on the environmental effects of Brazilian cattle ranching.

Read an ILO report on forced labor in Brazil’s cattle sector.

Watch a CNN video on forced labor in the cattle sector