Working conditions of migrants hired by subcontracted companies

Ambev and Heineken accused of imposing slave-like working conditions

The beer manufacturing giants were charged following an inspection conducted by the Program for the Eradication of Slave Labor in the state of São Paulo, which found 23 migrant workers subjected to slave-like conditions in one of the distributing companies that the multinational corporations outsource their services to.
Image: Allan McDonald
As reported by the Brazilian edition of the Spanish newspaper El País, the inspection, which began in the early hours of March 3, led to the inspectors dismantling a slave-like working system that implicates two of the world’s largest breweries, the multinational corporations Ambev and the Heneiken Group (Kaiser Brasil), and Sider, a transportation company subcontracted by the two corporations, which employed these workers directly.

The companies will have to pay R$ 657,270 (US$ 125,000) in compensation for moral damages caused to the affected workers.

The migrants (22 Venezuelans and one Haitian national) lived for months (some for more than a year) in the cabs of trucks parked at Sider facilities in Limeira and Jacareí, in the state of São Paulo.

They worked grueling hours, with no days off. In addition, they had no access to drinking water. The workers were also charged extra fees and money was deducted from their pay for work clothes and footwear and for nationalizing their driver’s licenses.

Several of the rescued workers described some of the situations of abuse they experienced: “If you dropped a load, they deducted it from your pay. If you got a flat tire, the cost was also deducted from your pay, and if you complained they would say, ‘If you don’t like it, you can go back to Venezuela and starve to death.”

Joint responsibility

Under Brazilian law, Heineken and Ambev are responsible for ensuring that the contractors they outsource work to (Sider, in this case) comply with work obligations, so the multinational corporations will also be held liable for having workers under slave-like conditions.

According to the inspection report, both companies acted with “willful blindness by ignoring their duty of verifying compliance” with the law on the part of the company to which they outsourced work, with the aim of profiting “to the detriment of labor protection regulations.”

According to El País, Labor Inspector Lívia dos Santos Ferreira explained that the contracting companies are held accountable “under the Subcontracting Act, which requires them to guarantee the health and safety conditions of their service providers.”

Therefore, “the grueling working hours and degrading conditions the workers suffered due to the lack of housing, for example, are conditions that should have been controlled by the subcontracting parties (Ambev and the Heineken Group).”

No right to rest or days off

The workers were subjected to exhausting workdays behind the wheel, with no breaks, thus endangering their own lives and the lives of others, the inspectors report.

Among the leading infractions detected and which corroborated the claim of slave-like conditions in this case was “the elimination of the paid weekly rest” (days off) and the break between one delivery trip and the next, which pursuant to applicable regulations must be 11 hours long.

“The result of the conditions they worked under has been an increase in the number of work accidents and, especially, of occupational diseases, which have even led to deaths and suicides,” the inspectors’ report states.