The Nestlé plant in Araras, near São Paulo, is the biggest Nestlé plant in Brazil and the fourth largest Nestlé plant in the world. Years ago Brazilian workers experienced the plant as a good and attractive place to work. However the working environment has changed completely since the mid-1990’s.
According to IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations) Nestlé’s strategies to become more competitive have focussed on cost reducing measures and the most efficient use of machines, while ignoring the health and safety aspects for their “human capital”.
In 2001, the instant coffee factories in Argentina and Chile were closed and their production transferred to Araras. As a consequence, the workforce in Araras had to work faster and harder to meet the company’s results, but for the same salaries.
The number of employees at Araras itself has been reduced over the last 20 years from about 2100 to some 1300 . While many processes have been mechanized, this has only accelerated the pace of work at the many junctures where strenuous manual efforts are still required.
The intensified pace of work, with no compensatory increase in work breaks, has not surprisingly led to an increase in the number of workers suffering from repetitive strain injuries (RSI).
But instead of taking this as a sign that the organization of work had to be revised, the company dismissed those workers who obtained a medical certificate attesting that they suffered from RSI.
Or as one manager expressed it, “The women workers are the only ones who give us problems. It would be better to employ robots instead of women, because the machines do not feel pain in the arms, have no menstrual pains and are not having babies.”
Nestlé’s Araras management is obviously not familiar with the company’s official policy regarding health and safety and non-discrimination.
As the local management has chosen to ignore the health and safety of its employees, the victims of RSI have established their own association and have filed a substantial number of lawsuits against the company.
Furthermore, the Brazilian government’s national rapporteur on the Right to Health, Elenora Menicucci de Oliveira, has included the cases of the dismissed RSI-affected workers at Nestlé Araras in her latest report to the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights.
Having avoided their responsibilities at the factory level, the employer may now have to respond at the UN level.
The struggle against RSI and support for the victims has been part of the project activities that the IUF Latin American regional office has developed together with its affiliates in Brazil.
Carlos Amorim describes the experiences from the Araras plant in the booklet “Silent Massacre – the Invisible Illness at Nestlé Araras” – www.rel-uita.org/publicaciones/masacre-silenciosa.htm. The booklet can be ordered (in Spanish) from the IUF Latin American Regional Secretariat.
International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)