The largest construction company in Latin America, Brazil’s Odebrecht Group, has been convicted of holding Brazilian workers in slave-like conditions at a construction project in Angola, Africa, Brazilian prosecutors said in a statement yesterday.
Judge Carlos Alberto Frigieri of the 2nd Part of the Labor Court of Araraquara, Brazil, ordered Odebrecht to pay 50 million reais ($13.4m) in damages, Reuters reports.
Odebrecht said it will appeal the decision.
An Odebrecht worker. The company will appeal the ruling (Odebrecht)
The ruling comes as Odebrecht’s chief executive, Marcelo Odebrecht, is in prison as part of a sweeping corruption probe in Brazil.
Odebrecht said in an e-mailed statement to Reuters that work involved in the Angola ethanol refinery project was carried out by an Angolan company in which Odebrecht has an indirect minority stake and that Odebrecht did not construct the ethanol refinery.
The issue was first brought to the attention of prosecutors by a series of reports on the Brazilian service of the BBC, the British state broadcaster, about a series of lawsuits filed against Odebrecht Group in the small town of Americo Brasiliense, Brasil, where many of the workers were recruited, the statement said.
The court’s statement accused Odebrecht of wrongly luring Brazilian labourers to jobs in Angola where they were forced to work without proper visas in unsanitary work camps.
Prosecutors said workers’ passports were confiscated and theywere kept in the work camps by armed guards, even on rest days.
Many had worked up debts with labour subcontractors while they waited for passports and travel papers for Angola, the prosecutors said.
The court ruled that Odebrecht was ultimately responsible for the project and benefited from the abuses, even though many of the abuses were carried out by third parties.
According to Reuters, Odebrecht said in its statement that working and living conditions at the ethanol refinery were satisfactory and met both Brazilian and Angolan law.
It said the movement of workers was never restricted and that all immigration and labour laws were complied with in both Brazil and Angola.