The German car manufacturer Volkswagen announced on September 23, 2020 that it had signed a deal with prosecutors to compensate Brazilian workers who were affected by the company’s partnership with Brazil’s former military dictatorship.
Employees who worked for VW when the Brazilian Military Regime governed the country took the company to court in 2015 over alleged collaboration between the regime and the company’s Brazilian security office, resulting in persecution of those suspected to be regime opponents. The collaboration included making political arrests on factory property and spying on VW workers.
VW agreed to pay out 36 million reais ($6.4 million USD) in compensation to the workers and their families, as well as to various human rights-related efforts in the country. VK has also pledged to support various projects in Brazil related to the incident, such as a memorial dedicated to the victims of the regime.
“We regret the violations that occurred in the past,” VW executive Hiltrud Werner told reporters. “For Volkswagen, it is important to deal responsibly with this negative chapter in Brazil’s history and promote transparency.”
The class action lawsuit represents roughly 6o people. The compensation payments were agreed upon by the company and state, federal, and labor law prosecutions in Brazil.
Critics of the Deal
Sebastiao Neto, a representative of the victims, criticized the deal by saying that VW had only talked to the judiciary and not to the affected workers themselves. He also states that the deal was too little too late for those worst affected by the partnership between the carmaker and the military dictatorship, including Lucio Bellentani.
Bellentani was a member of a communist party cell at VW’s factory in Sao Paulo. He recounted a day in 1972 when a police officer put a machine gun to his back while he was working and then took him to the personnel office where he was tortured.
“They started to beat me, they gave me slaps, kicks and punches, wanting me to tell them names of people who were political and union militants inside the factory,” he said in a 2018 video interview. “I said I didn’t know anyone.”
Bellentani was taken to Sao Paulo’s Department of Political and Social Order the same year, where he was shocked with electricity, beaten, and had teeth forcibly removed with pliers. He died in 2019 before the Brazilian government could settle the case against VW.
Despite criticism that the deal doesn’t adequately compensate the surviving workers and their families for the suffering they endured at the hands of the VW-military dictatorship collaboration, some argue that it was the only deal possible under Brazil’s current president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a defender of military rule known for his far-right policies. Geovaldo Santos, one of the VW employees who was persecuted by his employers after taking part in a strike in 1980, defended the agreement. “It was the only deal that was possible with the government we have,” he said.
History is Made
Christopher Kopper, a historian from the University of Bielefeld, was commissioned by Volkswagen to look into the case.
Kopper said the settlement would be historic. “It would be the first time that a German company accepts responsibility for human rights violations against its own workers for events that happened after the end of National Socialism,” he told German broadcasting companies NDR, SWR and SZ.
The significance of the settlement will be felt in both Brazil and Germany as a result.