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date: 05 December 2023

The Putumayo Atrocitieslocked

The Putumayo Atrocitieslocked

  • Angus MitchellAngus MitchellIndependent Scholar


The Putumayo atrocities allude to an outrage that made international headlines between 1909 and 1913. The evolving press story drew public attention to the extreme exploitation of people and environment by a British-owned extractive rubber company in a contested region of the northwest/Upper Amazon bordering Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. The scandal contributed to the demise of the “boom” in the extractive rubber industry in the Amazon. Claims of atrocities were brought initially to the attention of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society (ASAPS) in London. Humanitarian pressure triggered a series of official investigations undertaken by the governments of Britain, Peru, the United States, and the Vatican. The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, dispatched the consul general in Brazil, Roger Casement, to investigate. Casement made two separate journeys into the region in 1910 and 1911. In 1912, a British government Blue Book was published containing his reports and oral testimony gathered from British-Caribbean subjects recruited by the company to act as overseers. This was followed by a parliamentary select committee inquiry held in London that ran from October 1912 to April 1913. The US government organized their own commission of inquiry and published their own report. Despite the acreage of text produced, the efforts to help the rainforest communities proved too little too late. By the time the investigations had been undertaken, and the reports published, the main Indigenous communities living across the territory had been largely worked to death, displaced, or hunted down. In July 1914, an amendment to the Slavery Bill was passed in the British Houses of Parliament requiring transnational companies to assume humane responsibility and care for their workforce in whatever territories they operated. However, as Europe collapsed toward war, the legislation was never enshrined into international law, and this remains one of the unrealized goals of international labor relations to this day. Nevertheless, the Putumayo atrocities endure as the most closely documented and described incidents of the last years of the Amazon rubber boom and allow for consideration of the unfathomable human cost in a particularly vicious moment of untrammeled international colonial capitalism in South America.


  • History of Brazil
  • 1910–1945
  • Diplomatic History
  • Environmental History
  • Indigenous History
  • Colonialism and Imperialism

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