Between Neglect and Exploitation: Four Case Studies of Indigenous Communities in the Peruvian Amazon

Dr. Marta Furlan*

Republished from Cultural Survival. August 8, 2023,

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Walk Free, 49.6 million people worldwide are trapped into various forms of modern slavery, including 27.6 million in forced labor and 22 million in forced marriages. Factors such as poverty, COVID-19, the climate crisis, armed conflicts, and forced displacements are among the most prominent causes for these staggering figures.

In Peru, slavery has a long history, with numerous groups (such as Indigenous Peoples, African people, and individuals of Chinese descent) systematically subjected to trafficking, exploitation, and enslavement. Today, despite the efforts made by the government to combat the phenomenon, modern slavery continues to be prevalent throughout the country.

Driven by these considerations, the organizations Free the Slaves, an international NGO working to end the conditions that contribute to modern slavery, and Onampitsite Noshaninkaye Tzinani (ONOTZI), a Peruvian NGO working to promote the well being and development of Indigenous communities, conducted a research project to better illuminate the reality of modern slavery among Peru's Indigenous communities. Following extensive fieldwork among four Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon's regions of Ucayali and Huánuco, the report found that Indigenous people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to modern slavery due to a series of multidimensional, interconnected vulnerabilities.

The Road to Exploitation and Slavery

Over the years, illegal activities of mining and logging have dramatically increased throughout Peru, where they are facilitated by the state's failure to adequately regulate and monitor the extractivist industry. As Indigenous communities live in the territories that display the highest abundance of natural resources, their paths have inevitably crossed with those of illegal extractivist companies. To make things work, Indigenous territories lack clear demarcation, which contributes to the overlap between extractive concessions and the Indigenous lands. In this situation of widespread exploitation, Indigenous community leaders who attempt to oppose resource extraction and advocate for the protection of their ancestral territories face threats and assassinations.

Unregulated and unmonitored by the state, illegal logging has been contributing in devastating ways to deforestation in the Amazon (from 2001 to 2019, the country lost 2,433,314 hectares of Amazon forests to deforestation). For its part, illegal mining has been contributing to the contamination of water sources through the use and release of the mercury used to separate gold from rock fragments. Mercury is a highly toxic mineral that can spread over vast territories and generate severe health consequences even among persons living thousands of kilometers from mining areas.

As a result of these illegal extractivist activities that destroy the surrounding environment, exacerbate the effects of climate change, and contribute to the degradation of the existing ecosystem, Indigenous people have found themselves progressively deprived of their traditional livelihoods. As they lose their means of sustenance, they become more easily prey to ruthless traffickers, eager to exploit them for their own material profit.

These dynamics, however, do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they are nurtured by pre-existing vulnerabilities that have traditionally affected Indigenous people in Peru:

Favored by the intersection of these multidimensional vulnerabilities, diverse modalities of modern slavery were identified in the Indigenous communities studied: the commercial sexual exploitation of children, labor exploitation of children in coca leaf cultivation, and forced child marriage. Indicators of trafficking for sexual exploitation and for forced labor were also identified among adults in illegal mining, logging, and drug trafficking.


The report calls on the Peruvian government and civil society stakeholders, among others, to implement various recommendations relating to prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships. Some of the recommendations include:





‣Links to the full report ( English : ( Español and Ashaninka :

‣Links to the Executive Summary ( English: ( Español and Ashaninka:

*Dr. Marta Furlan is associated with Free the Slaves.