Brazil's Labor Attorney (MPT) has summoned carmaker Volkswagen for an administrative hearing following reports that the company benefitted from slave labor in the 1970s and 1980s in Santana do Araguaia, in the State of Pará, it was announced Monday.
The hearing will take place June 14 after the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the public broadcaster NDR published reports during the weekend revealing the iconic automaker was being investigated for alleged human rights violations.
An investigation into the case began in 2019 after printed documentation was submitted to the MPT by Father Ricardo Rezende Figueira, coordinator of a research group on slave labor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The priest was the coordinator of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of the National Confederation of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) for the Araguaia and Tocantins Region.
The facts reportedly took place on the Vale do Rio Cristalino Farm, known as Volkswagen Farm, in Santana do Araguaia, owned by Companhia Vale do Rio Cristalino Agropecuária Comércio e Indústria (CVRC), a Volkswagen subsidiary.
Labor Prosecutor Rafael Garcia Rodrigues said the human rights violations would include lack of medical treatment in cases of malaria, preventing people from leaving the farm due to armed surveillance or debts incurred (debt bondage), lodging in unhealthy places, without access to drinking water and with precarious food.
Garcia Rodrigues said the farm was one of the largest rural enterprises in the Amazon region, started in the 1970s, and subsidized by the military government, mainly through the Superintendence for the Development of the Amazon (Sudam) and the Banco da Amazônia S/A (Basa). The CVRC had about 300 direct employees, for administrative, cowboy, security, and inspection functions, but the services of clearing and felling the forest, carried out on the work fronts, were executed by workers without employment ties.
The Volkswagen Farm had more than 139 thousand hectares and the native vegetation was transformed into pasture areas through burning and deforestation by contractors, known in the region as cats, who recruited workers in small villages. They were contacted mainly in the interior of Mato Grosso, Maranhão, and Goiás, and also in the territory that today forms the state of Tocantins.
The human trafficking and slave labor allegations are referred to workers recruited by CVRC contractors to cut down and clear the forest at the Volkswagen Farm.
The German company said in a statement that Volkswagen do Brasil reinforces its commitment to contribute to investigations involving human rights in a very serious way. The company will not comment on the matter until it has clarity on all the allegations.