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With Sandro Eduardo Sardá

Brazil is the China

of the poultry sector


Sardá is national manager of the Project to Improve Working Conditions in Meatpacking Plants, a program implemented under the Public Ministry of Labor. He is also a member of the Permanent Joint Tripartite Commission, where the state, business and trade unions are discussing the drafting of the Regulating Standard on Occupational Health and Safety in Slaughterhouses and Meat and Meat Byproduct Processing Companies (RS). A staunch critic of the lack of ethics in Brazil’s leading meatpacking companies, he also criticizes government and labor action, saying it is not enough.






Some workers make as many as 120 movements per minute, and studies show that more than 30 movements per minute can put a worker’s health at serious risk of injury.



The sector’s poor working conditions operate as a form of social dumping, through the violation of health regulations and environmental, and it is all done with the aim of bringing down the price of the products. 



Brazil is the China of the poultry sector. No other poultry industry in the world can put out products as cheap as Brazil’s. That is obviously achieved at a very high social cost



-What is the Public Ministry of Labor and what are its duties?

-As provided by the Constitution, the role of the Public Ministry of Labor (MPT) is to defend the legal system and the democratic rule of law, which includes the protection of diffuse rights and interests [NB: these are collective rights enjoyed by a group of indeterminate people linked by a circumstantial connection]. The MPT has operational and administrative autonomy, which means it acts as a body independent of the legislative, executive and judicial branches.


Its main goals include:

-  Combating slave work and degrading working conditions;

-  Eradicating child exploitation and protecting adolescent workers;

-  Promoting a decent work environment; and

-  Guaranteeing freedom of association.


In the field of health protection and environmental defense, a specific project was recently created with the aim of enhancing working conditions in meatpacking plants, under the coordination of public prosecutor Heiler Ivens de Souza Natali and myself. I was also appointed project manager.


-How would you describe the working conditions in Brazil’s meatpacking plants?

-Based on five years of studying this sector’s companies, I would say that working conditions today are, without a doubt, completely detrimental to the physical and mental health of workers.


There is a whole legion of young workers injured as a result of appalling working conditions.


-Is that the case both in the beef and pork industries and in poultry plants?

-Yes. But in poultry plants the problem is more severe due to their excessive work pace. Some workers make as many as 120 movements per minute, and studies show that more than 30 movements per minute can put workers at serious risk of injury.


-We’re talking about more than 700,000 workers in the meat processing industry, right?

-Yes. According to estimates, there are more than 700,000 workers in the sector, and ergonomic studies conducted in meatpacking plants revealed that at least 20 percent of workers suffer from an occupational injury or disease.


-And is the percentage of injuries dropping or does it remain unchanged?

-The situation has gotten worse, with an increasing number of workers with musculoskeletal disorders who are discharged and put on social security insurance. For example, in  Chapecó, Santa Catarina - a major meat-producing state - there has been a 50-percent increase in the number of workers on social security insurance due to musculoskeletal disorders, including tendonitis, bursitis and back problems, and there is also a very alarming number of mental disorders brought on by a working environment with numerous risk factors and enormous pressure. 


-What happens to these sick workers?

-Their employers fire them. When workers get sick they are passed on to the Integrated Health System (SUS) and put on social security insurance. They are discarded by their employers and the state has to assume the responsibility of helping them recover.


Also very alarming is the large number of people who are affected by musculoskeletal disorders and who are often rejected even by the social security system, which denies their disability. So there are many workers who earn no salary and receive no social security benefits from the state.


-What does the MPT do when it inspects a meatpacking plant and finds harmful working conditions?

-The MPT works with a team of experts and workplace inspectors, who assess and monitor working conditions. Once an inspection is completed, the MPT brings what is known as a public civil action with the aim of improving working conditions. 


A recent significant example of this was a public civil action brought by the Public Ministry, through prosecutor Jean Carlo Voltolini, against Seara Alimentos SA, in Forquilhinha, Creciúma. As a result of this action the working conditions in the company’s meatpacking plant were judged unsuitable and the company was sentenced to pay 16 million reais (8.7 million US dollars). 


Our National Project is, therefore, tasked with: identifying the largest companies in Brazil, those with the greatest incidence of work injuries, carrying out an on-site inspection, and bringing any public civil actions that may be necessary to properly condition their workplaces and processes. 


-The workers are not benefiting from the great expansion in Brazil’s meatpacking industry…

-No, they’re not. Workers are not benefiting and neither is the state, because the social cost of this activity is very steep.


There is no doubt that the sector’s poor working conditions operate as a form of social dumping, through the violation of health regulations and environmental laws, and it is all done with the aim of bringing down the price of products. 


Brazil is the China of the poultry sector No other poultry industry in the world can put out products as cheap as Brazil’s chickens. That is obviously achieved at a very high social cost.


-What expectations are there with the Regulating Standard?

-It’s an industry-wide standard and we hope that the Ministry of Labor will approve it to protect workers’ health, which is a duty of the state.


Among other important issues, this regulating standard covers the work pace, breaks, recovery from fatigue, and adjustment of factory equipment. 


The working conditions in meatpacking plants today can only be described as industrial feudalism. The concept of citizenship does not exist in meatpacking plants, there is no room for rights there, workers must leave their rights at the door of their workplace. And as they are not recognized as citizens once they step through the door, workers enter a realm of complete defenselessness and impunity.


-Together with doctor Roberto Ruiz, we’re denouncing that trade unions are also not allowed in these factories…

-That’s right. Brazil needs to look at the situation of labor to determine what the role of trade unions is. 


There are many clauses that need to be revised, clauses that are signed even after a process of collective negotiation, as they represent a curtailment of rights in monetary terms and a detriment to the health of the worker. For example, many agreements encourage various forms of pressure so that workers will continue working even if they’re sick, because if their condition requires sick leave, they lose their benefits.


That’s without mentioning that there are a number of rights that are not even discussed, or the issue of the hour bank, for example, which in the meatpacking sector does enormous harm.


-Is there anything else you’d like to add?

-I think it’s time for the state to take firm action, through the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health and its bodies. 


We need to put a stop to the widespread impunity that allows employers to drive so many of their workers to ill health and degrade their working environment so badly. Firm action needs to be taken by everyone: the Public Ministry, the courts, the state, the labor movement, and the entire population. 


We need to change the way work is organized. We understand that companies need to make a profit, but it should not be done at the expense of their workers’ health.


That is an ill-gotten profit, which is not good for workers or for Brazilian society as a whole.


From Florianópolis, Gerardo Iglesias


April 12, 2012






Photo 1-4: CONTAC

Photo 5: Gerardo Iglesias

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