Brazil’s government included a Heineken brewery on its so-called ‘dirty list’ of companies found to have “conditions analogous to slavery”.
Brazilian brewery Kaiser, which is owned by Heineken, has been added to the government’s list of companies responsible for labor conditions analogous to slavery, according to Reuters reporting.
The Kaiser brewery was placed on the list for subcontracting Sider, a trucking company that delivered its beer in the state of Sao Paulo. Sider was charged in 2021 for submitting 23 of its drivers – 22 Venezuelans and one Haitian – to “slavery-like conditions.”
Brazil defines slavery as forced labor, debt bondage, degrading work conditions, and long hours of work in legal terms.
Heineken is a repeat offender concerning human rights violations and their track record illustrates that human rights offenses are part of the beer giants business practices.
In 2017, Movendi International revealed that Heineken was abusing the Human Rights of workers in DR Congo. In 2019 and beyond, investigative journalist Olivier van Beemen exposed how Heineken uses the beer promotion girls scheme and exposes young women to harassment and abuse promoting the consumption of Heineken products. In 2023, Follow The Money revealed that Heineken profits from the repression of Uyghurs in China.
Abusing human rights in general and worker’s rights in particular is clearly part and parcel of Heineken’s approach to maximizing profits at all costs.
Brazil: Ambev and Heineken fined for slave labour in outsourced company; victims were immigrants from Venezuela and Haiti
This story is not new. Already in May 2021, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center reported that Ambev and Heineken had been charged with having Venezuelan immigrants in a situation of slavery in Brazil.
In March 2021, 23 foreigners were freed in an action of the Slave Labor Eradication Program in the State of São Paulo, linked to the Ministry of Economy. During the operation, which began in the early morning of March 3, the inspectors dismantled a system of work in conditions analogous to slavery that involved the two largest beer producers in the world, the multinationals Ambev and Grupo Heineken (which in Brazil is called Cervejarias Kaiser Brasil), and a transport company subcontracted by both, Sider, which directly employed the workers.
The beer giants were set to prepare a schedule to pay employees moral damages. At the time, they had a few weeks to prepare their defense in the case. In total, each rescued worker would receive about 657,270 reais ($ 125,000).
The immigrants, 22 Venezuelans and one Haitian, lived for months (some more than a year) in the cab of trucks parked at Sider’s headquarters. They worked long hours without a day off. In addition, they did not have access to drinking water. Extra fees and discounts were also imposed on them.
Brazilian law establishes that it would be up to Heineken and Ambev to supervise that the outsourced contractor (Sider) complies with labor obligations.
At the time Heineken claimed it learned of the case “through the Regional Labor Superintendency, and that it actively collaborated to guarantee all the fundamental rights of workers, as indicated by the auditors”.
AB InBev owned Ambev claimed at the time that “as soon as we became aware of the complaint to Sider…[,]…we immediately made sure that the drivers were transferred to a hotel, where they were given shelter and received all the necessary support”.
In 2023 Heineken’s response to the scandal is lying
Reuters reports that Heineken claimed the beer giant was not aware of the situation at Sider. Heineken also claimed it created a tool to monitor labor issues involving its subcontractors.
The Venezuelan workers were hired through Operacao Acolhida, a federal government initiative resettling migrants arriving in Brazil and connecting them with companies looking for workers.
But in 2021, government inspectors found that Sider drivers were being worked up to 18 hours per day, with no paid time off. The beer giant also neglected to provide these workers with lodging, despite promising to do so. Many slept in their trucks instead.
The Brazilian government publishes this list every six months. Newly included companies remain on the list for two years. The government then removes the name if no new offense is found in the period.
This means that Heineken, in contrast to AB InBev, has not done enough since 2021 to remedy the human rights offenses of the workers.
The government bars businesses on this list from bidding for federal government contracts. They also cannot receive state loans. Private banks also use the list to gauge the credit risk of loan applicants. International suppliers who are concerned about their supply chains also vet suppliers through the list. Less conscientious companies such as alcohol companies are not so concerned.
Big Beer and Big Wine are big on forced labor and worker’s rights abuses
In 2021, an Oxfam report exposed the human rights abuses of the wine industry in Italy, one of the biggest wine exporters in the world. Forced labor, poverty wages, excessive working hours and severe health and safety risks for workers in the Italian wine industry – the report detailed a shocking situation that appears similar to how Big Beer treated workers in Brazil.
Human rights violations, a common industry practice
Other alcohol giants have also been exposed for their unethical corporate practices that put profit maximization over fundamental human rights. Heineken’s track record is not an exception in the alcohol industry.
In its own Human Rights Policy, Heineken commits to the guidelines of the OECD for multinational enterprises. The company therefore possesses a duty of care towards this end. It is obligated to identify the risks of human rights violations, including forced labor. This includes a duty to prevent such violations and remedy them where necessary.
As the real effects of alcohol consumption and the human rights violations practiced by the beer and wine industry make clear, however, all this falls by the wayside in the industry’s pursuit of profit.
Business and Human Rights Resource Center: “Brazil: Ambev and Heineken fined for slave labour in outsourced company; victims were immigrants from Venezuela and Haiti”