Brazil Odebrecht denies allegations of slave labour in Angola

20 June 2014 23:29 Source:ICIS News

LONDON (ICIS)--Brazil-based industrial conglomerate Odebrecht denied on Friday accusations that company workers were exposed to slave-labour conditions during the construction of a biofuels plant in the southern African nation of Angola.

Odebrecht was responding to a report by the BBC of alleged exploitation of Brazilian workers at the Biocom facility – a joint venture between Odebrecht, Angola’s state-run oil producer Sonangol and private local firm Damer – between 2010 and 2014. 

Following on from the BBC report, prosecutors at Brazil’s Labour Ministry (MPT) launched legal action against Odebrecht, accusing the company of subjecting some 400 workers to “conditions akin to slavery”.

Prosecutors are seeking Brazilian reais (R) 500m ($223m) in compensation for the workers involved.

“Biocom rejects the allegations and insinuations in the report, which are a distortion of reality,” a spokesperson for Odebrecht said in an e-mail. “The company strictly complies with labour legislation in all its operations in Angola.”

According to the BBC report and documents filed by the MPT, workers at the Biocom plant were forced to work in inhuman and dirty conditions with inadequate bathroom facilities, while restrictions on movement prevented them from leaving the site.

Workers also had to endure dirty drinking water and inedible food that led to various ailments including fever, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea and weight loss.

Odebrecht responded by saying that all workers had “three meals per day, produced in industrial kitchens and supported by a nutritionist, as well as access to health services, including a physician and first-aid post”.

Furthermore, employees were provided with “transport and accommodation with internet access, TV, telephone for national and international calls and a recreation area”.

The company also rejected claims of “human trafficking” during the transportation of workers to the plant, and denied reports that incorrect visas were issued to workers, effectively putting their safety at risk with Angolan authorities.

In addition to compensation, prosecutors are demanding a further penalty of 0.1-20% of Odebrecht’s gross annual revenues and guarantees that public banks, including Brazil’s development bank, BNDES, suspend loans and incentive packages to the company.

Odebrecht, one of Latin America’s biggest companies, has businesses in construction, engineering, real estate, transportation, defence, oil and gas, and is the controlling shareholder of petrochemical major Braskem.

Odebrecht has had a presence in Angola since 1984, according to its website.

($1 = R2.24)

By Simon West