Brazil: Volkswagen accused of "slavery" practices during the dictatorship

Posted 30 May, 2022

The German group Volkswagen, the world's second-largest car manufacturer, is facing new charges linked to the dictatorship in Brazil, this time for "slavery" practices between 1974 and 1986, several German media said on Sunday.

According to the public television channel ARD and the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Volkswagen is summoned on June 14 to a labor court in Brasilia, following a notification sent to him by the local justice system on May 19.

Questioned by AFP, a spokesperson for Volkswagen assured that the company took "very seriously" this case as well as the "possible incidents" which would have occurred "and on which the investigations of the Brazilian judicial authorities are based. ".

However, the group did not want to say more at this stage "due to possible legal proceedings".

The charges against him date back to the period 1974-1986, during the military dictatorship that raged in Brazil between 1964 and 1985. Former employees of the group during this period have been asking for compensation for several years, but until here without success.


"Human Trafficking"


The complaints examined by the Brazilian justice state, according to the German media, of recourse by the car manufacturer to "slavery practices", to "trafficking in human beings" and accuse the group of having been complicit in "violations systematics of human rights".

At the time, the group had planned to build a large agricultural site on the edge of the Amazon basin for the meat trade, the "Companhia Vale do Rio Cristalino".

Hundreds of daily and temporary workers were recruited for deforestation work, particularly on 70,000 hectares, via intermediaries, but, according to German media, probably with the consent of the manufacturer's management.

According to these media, which were able to consult more than 2,000 pages of testimonies and police reports, the workers were sometimes victims of abuse and violence on the part of intermediaries and armed guards on the site.

The testimonies notably mention the ill-treatment of the workers who tried to flee and even suspicious disappearances. The wife of one of them was raped as punishment, according to German media. A mother says her child died as a result of violence.


"Modern Slavery"


"It was a form of modern slavery," the Brazilian prosecutor in Rio in charge of the investigation, Rafael Garcia, told German media.

He evokes inhuman working conditions on the site, "with workers who had malaria, some of them died of it and were buried on the spot without the families being informed".

"VW obviously not only accepted this form of slavery but also encouraged it, because it was cheap labor," added the prosecutor.

Volkswagen has already had trouble in the past with Brazilian justice during the time of the dictatorship.

In 2020, the group agreed to pay 36 million reais (5.5 million euros) to compensate the families of ex-workers tortured or murdered during this period.

The former employees and their families claimed VW's security department in Brazil worked with the military to identify possible suspects, who were later arrested and tortured.

A collaboration was confirmed by an independent report commissioned by the company in 2016.

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