VW accused of 'slavery' in Brazil
Germany's Volkswagen Group has been accused of slavery in Brazil back in the 1970s-80s.
Germany's Volkswagen Group faces accusations of "slavery" practices in Brazil during the South American country's military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, German media said on Sunday.
Following a notification received by the local justice on May 19, Volkswagen has been called to appear before a labor court in Brasilia on June 14, according to ARD public television and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily. A VW spokesman told AFP it was taking the matter "very seriously".
However, the world's second-largest carmaker did not want to say more at this stage "due to possible legal proceedings."
The lawsuit spans the years 1974-1986. Brazil was ruled by the military from 1964 until 1985. Former Volkswagen employees have been pursuing restitution for several years.
According to the reports, the Brazilian judiciary is examining complaints that allege the car manufacturer used "slavery-like practices" and "human trafficking", and accuses the group of having been complicit in "systematic human rights violations."
The German business had planned to establish a vast agricultural facility on the outskirts of the Amazon basin for the meat trade at the time.
Hundreds of day laborers and temporary workers were recruited through middlemen for deforestation work on 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) with the permission of the manufacturer's management, according to German media.
Over 2,000 pages of testimonials and police reports were reviewed by the publications.
According to German accounts, the workers were occasionally abused and violently treated by intermediaries and armed guards.
There have also been reports of mistreatment of workers who attempted to flee, as well as strange disappearances. As punishment, one worker's wife was raped. Another mother alleges that her child died as a result of physical abuse.
"It was a form of modern slavery," the Rio prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Rafael Garcia, told the German media outlets.
He described inhumane working conditions on the site, with workers contracting malaria, "some of whom died of it and were buried on-site without their families being informed."
"VW had obviously not only accepted this form of slavery but also encouraged it, as it was cheap labor," the prosecutor added.
Volkswagen made a historic agreement with state and federal prosecutors in Brazil in 2020 to pay 36 million reais (about $6.4 million at the time) in restitution for its role in the crimes of that era.
Former Volkswagen employees and their families said the company's security office worked with Brazil's secret police to locate suspected leftist opponents and union leaders, who were then jailed and tortured.
"We regret the violations that occurred in the past. For Volkswagen, it is important to deal responsibly with this negative chapter in Brazil's history and promote transparency," VW executive Hiltrud Werner said at the time.