Carrefour Supermarket: Discrimination, Use of Force and Black Lives Matter Protests in Brazil
In November 2020, a security incident resulted in the fatal beating of a black man by the security guards of Carrefour Supermarket in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Violent protests ensued, and while Carrefour immediately took remedial steps including terminating their contract with the private security provider and reviewing diversity and sensitivity training, the supermarket eventually settled with the Federal Prosecutor’s office and other parties to pay R$115 (US 22$M).
In 1888, Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. At the time of abolition, Brazil’s population was mostly black or mixed-race until the 1930s, when an influx of European immigrants came to Brazil in search of labour. During this era, anti-black pseudoscientific methods were used to scientifically “prove” white biological superiority. These (clearly false) theories were widely disproven by the mid-20th century, yet these theories were still used to propagate racism in social and political policies.
Today, these overtly racist policies are no more, and most Brazilians recognize the remaining racial prejudice and discrimination that persists in Brazil. However, statistical analysis reveals disparate treatment of non-white Brazilians in multiple areas of society. For example, on average, non-white Brazilians earn half the income of the white population of Brazil, and Black Brazilians are almost three times as likely to be victims of homicide compared to others.
While Black and mixed-race people account for about 57% of Brazil’s population, they constitute 74% of victims of lethal violence, and 79% of those killed by the police. On the corporate side of Brazil, Black Brazilians occupy less than 5% of seats on company boards. Finally, discrimination still persists in the form of slights, aggressions, and racial insults.
On November 19, 2020, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a Carrefour Supermarket store employee called security after a man allegedly threatened to attack her. Footage from the incident appeared to show that the man, João Alberto Silveira Freitas, was punched in the face, and later kneeled on, by two white security guards, resulting in his death. According to the state forensics institute, the cause of death was asphyxiation. The preliminary investigation allegedly stated that Freitas was beaten for more than five minutes before dying.
Bystanders filmed the incident, which was widely shared on social media. Another employee appeared to be alongside the security guards, filming the incident.
According to the homicide investigator Vanessa Pitrez, Carrefour supervisor Adriana Alves Dutra had authority over the guards, implicating the duty to stop them from beating Freitas. Thus, according to Pitrez, this authority could have resulted in Dutra being convicted of homicide as a co-conspirator.
The International Code of Conduct requires that Personnel of Member and Affiliate companies take all reasonable steps to avoid the use of force, and if force is used, it should be proportionate to the threat and appropriate to the situation. (Rules on the Use of Force : paragraph 29, Use of Force : paragraph 30-32)
When apprehending persons all apprehended persons should be treated humanely and consistent with their status and protections under applicable human rights law or international humanitarian law, including in particular prohibitions on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (paragraph 34)
Further, the International Code of Conduct requires stringent selection and vetting of personnel, assessment of performance and duties (paragraphs 45 to 49), and training of personnel of the Code and relevant international law, including human rights and international criminal law (paragraph 55). Meeting the requirements of the Code of Conduct, can help private security companies and their clients ensure that private security personnel are qualified, trained, supported, informed, and responsible.
The day after Freitas’ death, Carrefour SA said that it “deeply regretted what it called a brutal death,” and indicated that Carrefour SA took steps to ensure that those responsible were legally punished. Carrefour stated that it would terminate the contract with the security firm, fire the employee in charge of the store at the time of the incident, and close the store as a mark of respect.
Further, the Chairman and CEO of Carrefour, Alexandre Bompard, took to Twitter and stated that internal measures were implemented by Carrefour in Brazil. Bompard called for a review of employee and sub-contractor’s training on security, diversity, and tolerance values.
Carrefour Supermarket established a $5M fund to combat racism in Brazil, and stated that Black Brazilians would represent at least 50% of annual new hires.
Shortly after the incident, the Brazilian state sued Carrefour for $38 million in damages for the death of Freitas. The lawsuit also asked the court to shut down the store, “with the objective of reducing the risk of hostile acts that could occur during protests.” Finally, the complaint demanded the creation of a plan to combat racism and discriminatory treatment by the retailer in Porto Alegre.
In June 2021, Carrefour settled with the Federal Prosecutor’s office and other parties to pay R$115 (US 22$M). This settlement put to end all lawsuits relating to the implementation and execution of anti-racist racial diversity measures.
Following the death of Freitas, Carrefour Brasil was removed from an index of companies with the best environmental, social, and governance policies run by S&P Dow Jones and B3. Just four days after the death of Freitas, Carrefour Brasil’s share price plummeted 6% in afternoon trading.
Eventually, the two men who allegedly beat Freitas were detained and were investigated for homicide, due to the victim’s asphyxiation and inability to defend himself.
The day after Freitas’ death, protestors started handing out stickers depicting the Carrefour logo stained with blood, called for a boycott of the chain, and held up “Black Lives Matter” signs. Later that evening, the protest turned violent, and demonstrators allegedly smashed windows and delivery vehicles. Protestors then stormed and trashed the supermarket where the incident took place, and 200 protestors gathered outside another Carrefour location in Rio de Janeiro.
How does the vetting process of new security personnel address the issue of racism and other discrimination?
How can the recruitment and training of private security personnel incorporate diversity, sensitivity, and inclusion concepts?
Case prepared by Madison Zeeman
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