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News > Brazil

Brazil: Volkswagen Acknowledges Persecution, Torture of Workers

  • Image of a Volkswagen company factory in Brazil in the early 1970s.

    Image of a Volkswagen company factory in Brazil in the early 1970s. | Photo: Twitter/ @revistaforum

Published 25 September 2020

The company collaborated with the military dictatorship in actions that affected its workers.

Volkswagen announced that it agreed with the State of São Paulo to compensate its former workers for the damages it caused them during the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985.


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The German company pledged to grant US$6.5 million to promote initiatives related to the defense of human rights and the investigation of crimes committed during the dictatorship. Just over US$3 million of that amount will go to former workers who reported violations of their human rights.

"With this agreement, Volkswagen wants to promote the clarification of the human rights violations of that time," the German company stated and stressed that it is "the first foreign company to face its past in a transparent way."

The work of the Truth Commission, which was promoted by President Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), allowed the relationship between Volkswagen and the dictatorship to become a judicial issue in 2016.

The company's headquarters then hired historian Christopher Kopper to conduct in-depth research on the subject. The Bielefeld University academic concluded that Volkswagen's Brazilian subsidiary provided information to the military about the activities of those who worked at the factory in Sao Bernardo do Campo.

The meme reads, “They took me to the Volkswagen personnel department. The torture started right there,” said former worker Bellentani, who was beaten in front of security guards. "Government agents wanted me to denounce comrades who carried out political and union activities."

In 1972, due to these secret links with the military regime, Lucio Bellentani, a worker linked to the Communist Party of Brazil, was tortured by police inside the factory. In that year, six other Volkswagen workers were also arrested for their union activities.

The German investigator's report shows that Volkswagen did not take part in the military coup of 1964 “but the establishment of a military dictatorship, which was becoming increasingly repressive, was positively evaluated by the company."

The open recognition of Volkswagen's dark past has been interpreted by local analysts as a subtle message for Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro.

"When we have a government that explicitly supports and defends the legacy of the military dictatorship, this is a strong sign of how the world's big companies adopt positions less and less aligned with those that the current Brazilian government defends," the Fundacion Getulio Vargas (FGV) professor Claudio Couto said, as reported by outlet Toda Palavra.

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