Supermarkets purchased meat from suppliers charged with using slave labor

An investigation by Repórter Brasil reveals that Pão de Açúcar, Carrefour and Cencosud purchased products from meatpackers that buy cattle from ranchers charged with using slave labor. Pão de Açúcar claims it has cut ties with the supplier; Cencosud challenges the deal; and Carrefour awaits clarification from the meatpacking company
By André Campos
The Pão de Açúcar Group suspended meat purchases from two companies (Photo by Zé Gabriel/Greenpeace)

Three major supermarket chains bought products from meatpackers whose suppliers include ranchers caught using slave-like labor. These are the Carrefour, Pão de Açúcar (GPA) and Cencosud groups, which together have over 2,000 stores throughout the country.

An investigation by Repórter Brasil found three meatpacking companies that sell meat to supermarket chains but bought cattle from farms included in the ‘dirty list’ of slave labor – a federal government registry of people and companies caught perpetrating that crime.

Carrefour, GPA and Cencosud are among the four largest retail groups in Brazil. In the past, all three chains have pledged not to buy products from employers on the ‘dirty list’. Carrefour and Pão de Açúcar signed the 2005 National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labor while Cencosud signed a letter of commitment last year.

Of the three companies, Pão de Açúcar was the first to suspend its suppliers (the meatpackers Frigotil and Frigoestrela), as GPA’s Sustainability Department told Repórter Brasil.

Carrefour initially stated that it would await its supplier’s stance. When the report was published, it informed that ‘after an internal investigation and clarification from the supplier, it decided to suspend purchases of Frigoestrela’s products’. The group also sustainded that ‘all of its commercial contracts have specific clauses obliging suppliers to strictly comply with all the current labor legislation, thus preventing any use of slave-like labor”.

Cencosud denied buying meat from meatpackers that deal with ranchers on the ‘dirty list’ of slave labor.

Three meatpacking companies were caught buying meat from ranchers charged with using slave labor (Photo: Press Release/Bruno Cecim/Agência Pará)

Frigotil and Frigoestrela

Frigoestrela purchased cattle from a ‘dirty list’ rancher on different occasions between 2018 and 2019. The company said it monitors ranchers constantly and stated that in the specific case there was still no court decision against the supplier. Frigoestrela has slaughtering units in Rondonópolis, Mato Grosso, and Estrela D’Oeste, São Paulo.

Located in Timon, Maranhão, Frigotil also bought cattle from two ranchers on the ‘dirty list’ between 2018 and 2019. The company replied to Repórter Brasil that ‘it discourages purchase of cattle under these conditions’ and that it is considering hiring a consulting company to enable greater socio-environmental control of its suppliers.

See the full statements sent in Portuguese by Pão de Açúcar, Carrefour, Cencosud, Frigotil and Frigoestrela.

Boi Brasil supplies Chilean group

The Boi Brasil meatpacking company, which has three slaughtering plants in the state of Tocantins, also bought cattle from a ‘dirty list’ rancher in 2018. Repórter Brasil found meat from the company being sold at the Bretas supermarket chain in Goiânia, Goiás, also in 2018. Boi Brasil did not respond to the questions sent by the reporters.

Bretas is one of Chilean group Cencosud’s companies. The company denied maintaining commercial relations with Boi Brasil and claimed that the meatpacker has been blocked in its purchasing management system since 2015.

The business relationship between the Cencosud group and Boi Brasil was pointed out in a report by the Chain Action Research initiative published in October 2018 in partnership with Repórter Brasil. The study found beef from Boi Brasil being sold by Bretas in August last year – that is, three years after the date when Cencosud claims to have blocked the supplier.

Frigotil purchased cattle from two ranchers included in the ‘dirty list’ of slave labor between 2018 and 2019 (Press release/Frigotil)

Cattle ranchers on the ‘dirty list’

Carlinhos Florêncio, a PCdoB state deputy in Maranhão, was one of the ranchers identified in the investigation as a supplier of the meatpacking company selling to Pão de Açúcar stores.

He was fined for subjecting nine workers to slavery at his Tremendal Farm in Parnarama, Maranhão. The politician was included in the ‘dirty list’ in April 2018 and remained on it until November of that year, when his name was excluded by a court injunction. Prior to that, between May and September, he supplied cattle to Frigotil’s slaughter unit in Timon.

Repórter Brasil tried to contact his office by telephone and email but received no answer. In an interview to UOL in 2018, his lawyer claimed that Florêncio’s inclusion in the ‘dirty list’ was unfair because, while he did own the farm, his brothers were in charge of management. The same argument was accepted by the court in its decision to remove his name from the ‘dirty list’.

José Rodrigues dos Santos – also a Frigotil supplier – sold cattle to the company on several occasions between 2018 and 2019. He was included in the ‘dirty list’ in October 2017 and remains in the register. His inclusion was due to the rescue of 22 employees at the Lago Azul Farm, in Brejo de Areia, Maranhão.

Pão de Açúcar, Carrefour and Cencosud have pledged in the past not to buy products from employers on the ‘dirty list’ of slave labor.

This was not the first case of slave labor involving Santos. In 2007, he was charged with exploiting 48 workers at the Ilha/Veneza Farm in Capinzal do Norte, Maranhão. Two years later, a new inspection on the same property led to a new rescue, this time involving 29 workers. At the time, the inspectors learned that Santos had leased the land to his brother. Repórter Brasil spoke with the rancher’s lawyer and sent questions by email, which were not answered.

In Mato Grosso, another ‘dirty list’ employer, Hélio Cavalcanti Garcia, was caught supplying cattle to Frigoestrela in 2018 and 2019. He was included in the federal government register in October 2017. He also went to court to exclude his name, to no avail. It remains on the list today.

Garcia was mayor of Rondonópolis in the 1960s and, besides being a rancher, he is also a notary public. Labor inspectors found five workers in a slave-like conditions at his Rio Dourado Farm in Poxoréu, Mato Grosso. He told the G1 website that he had been set up by an employee who owed him 17 thousand reais. He also said that the workers were not his employees – one of them was a contractor and the other four were subcontractors.

Repórter Brasil tried to contact Garcia in his notary office and through his lawyer but there was no answer.

A supplier of Boi Brasil, Eronice de Souza Borges was included in the ‘dirty list’ in October 2018. A month later, he sold cattle to Boi Brasil’s slaughtering plant in Alvorada, Tocantins. He was charged with subjecting a worker to slave-like conditions at his Umuarama Farm in Aliança do Tocantins, Tocantins.

The inspection was motivated by a complaint made to the Federal Police reporting that the workers would be working under coercion. According to the complaint, the owner threatened them ‘by saying he would shoot any worker who left the farm in the face’. During the operation, the inspectors of the former Ministry of Labor did not confirm the death threats. However, they identified a worker in degrading conditions – living in precarious housing without access to safe drinking water or mandatory protective equipment.

Called by phone, Borges said he would not speak.

This report was made with the support of DGB Bildungswerkunder the project PN: 2017 2606 6/DGB 0014, and its content is the sole responsibility of Repórter Brasil.

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