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Brazil: Ministry of Labor fines Nestlé for imposing long working hours

It doesn’t come as a surprise to see Nestlé breaching its own agreements. The transnational corporation has become a typical example of corporate cynicism. What’s truly surprising is that this time Brazil’s Labor Ministry has levied a fine of US$ 320,000 on Nestlé for violating an agreement with its workers.

In what constitutes a very positive sign, the company has agreed to pay the fines through donations to various health institutions.

This penalty, however, seems a mere inconvenience to the company when compared to the severity and potential implications of the violations of the Conduct Adjustment Terms (TAC) agreement that regulates the length of the workday, as well as the working environment. The TAC was signed between Nestlé and its plants’ trade unions in 2007, with the Labor Ministry as guarantor to monitor compliance.

Nestlé has four plants in the city of Araras, an inland city of the state of São Paulo, Brazil, where it produces chocolate milk, yoghurt, Nescafé instant coffee, and other products. These factories had already become notorious through numerous reports of workers denouncing the excessive work pace they were forced to maintain.

The result of this extreme demand on its workers was an epidemic of cases of Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), which was documented in the book “Silent Massacre: The Invisible Illness at Nestlé Araras”, published by IUF Latin America in 2004.

Now, four years later, Brazil’s Labor Ministry informs that through its inspections of the Nestlé plants the Labor Prosecutor’s Office found that “lack of breaks, excessive working hours, and pressure to work weekends and holidays” are the norm in these plants.

It also found that the world’s leading food producer had stopped replacing the old chairs used by the workers with proper seats, as required, and had failed to place safety protections on some of the machines.

In total, the inspection detected seven violations of the TAC, and levied a fine for each of those violations, for various amounts. In late May 2010, Nestlé agreed to pay the fines (which in all amount to US$ 320,000) through donations to several local health care institutions, and to the Labor Ministry.

For the workers of Nestlé Araras affected by RSI, the Labor Ministry’s decision represents an official acknowledgement of their denunciations and a vigorous denial of the cynical claims of the transnational corporation, which has systematically refused to assume any responsibility for the harm caused to the victims of its unchecked ambition.

For current Nestlé workers, this decision has served to ratify the terms of the TAC signed in 2007, and has enabled them to sign a new one, whereby Nestlé undertakes to refrain from forcing its employees to work on Saturdays and Sundays.

This is a new commitment that the transnational corporation takes on at a time in which its actions are publicly exposed, but past experience indicates that if the workers are not organized and alert, the company will not honor its commitment. So a strong presence of organized labor is necessary to closely monitor the company’s actions.

IUF Latin America will continue in its vigilant stance and will also monitor the situation, as Nestlé has a record of being one of the most anti-union companies in the world and one of the most likely to breach its agreements with trade unions.

Ministerio de Trabajo multa a Nestlé por exigir jornadas excesivas de labor