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$8.5 Million Earmarked for Brazil Labor Rights

After a contentious presidential election, labor rights in Brazil are getting a much-needed shot in the arm.

Fundo Brasil de Direitos Humanos, in partnership with Laudes Foundation, Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations, unveiled on Wednesday an $8.5 million fund designed to “catalyze” philanthropic investments to protect and empower urban and rural workers most vulnerable to exploitation and precarious conditions, including migrant and informal labor.

Labora Fundo de Apoio ao Trabalho Digno, or the Fund for Decent Work, is soliciting proposals from non-governmental organizations, collectives and multistakeholder initiatives working to safeguard workers’ rights in Brazil.

Laudes Foundation, previously known as C&A Foundation, has been working in South America’s largest nation for the past decade, during which it has doled out grants to organizations such as Alumni Coppead and the Brazilian Association of Textile Retail to strengthen working conditions and improve supply-chain transparency.

But a series of government measures and reforms have challenged labor relations and rolled back workers’ rights in Brazil, the nonprofit said. Its sluggish economic recovery in the wake of Covid-19 has also exacerbated social inequalities, particularly for women and Black Brazilians, who have increasingly turned to informal and unreliable work to eke out a living.

“Our global economy is characterized by a power imbalance between employers and vulnerable workers,” said Amol Mehra, its director of industry transformation. “Laudes Foundation’s work in labor rights in Brazil has exposed the deficiencies in the economic system which perpetuate inequity and vulnerability. We are proud to bring together three global philanthropic organizations to seed fund the Labora fund in support of the brave approaches of civil society, and labor groups to seize opportunities to rebuild an economic system that is equitable and sustainable.”

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The fund’s mission is to promote decent working conditions for all by tackling race and gender equity as “fundamental and interlinked” challenges. According to research by the Brazilian Institute of Geographies and Statistics, 37 percent of all people unemployed in Brazil are Black women, while only 16 percent are white men.

“Race and gender markers underpin inequality in the Brazilian labor market,” said Allyne Andrade, deputy executive director of Fundo Brasil de Direitos Humanos. “In Brazil, the right for sick leave, maternity leave and pension, among other welfare benefits, can only be accessed by formal workers.”

In 2019, a study funded by the then C&A Foundation found that gender-based violence and harassment at Brazil’s garment factories was not only widespread but that until the adoption of International Labour Organization convention 190, the world’s first global standard on violence and harassment at work, little was being done to change it.

According to the nearly 250 textile and shoe workers who participated in the study, all of them women, the most frequent form of violence was bullying. Supervisors, they said, frequently screamed, cursed and threatened them for not producing at the required pace, or harassed them for using the restroom. Union leaders were especially susceptible to abuse, as were Afro-Brazilian and LGBTQI+ workers.

“Workers who are labor leaders reported that not only are they under stronger surveillance, but so is anyone that gets near them,” the report said. “In one case, even the intention of signing up for a union resulted in the worker’s layoff.” Black women were usually assigned to the “worst” tasks, such as working with shoe glue or noisy machines, it added.

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” Francisca Trajano, president of the National Confederation of Apparel Workers, said at the time. “At the same time, it’s a wake-up call to do something about it.”

Brazil is home to the world’s fourth-largest garment industry, with roughly 1.5 million workers, churning out 5.5 billion garments annually, according to the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry Association.