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Brazilian Retail Company Sued for All-Black Trainee Program, Accused of Limiting Opportunities to Non-Minorities

Brazilian retail giant Magazine Luiza SA is facing a lawsuit from the country’s federal public defender’s office, which has accused the company of discrimination for its exclusively Black trainee program.

According to the civil action, Magazine Luiza’s trainee program is a “business marketing strategy” and they are seeking 10 million reais ($1.8 million) in damages.

Magazine Luiza, which is described by Reuters as a seller of “various consumer goods, including home appliances, electronics, furniture, cosmetics, baby care accessories, toys and sport articles, among others,” is the object of a Sept. 28 document proposing the lawsuit against the department store chain and internet retailer. Put forth by public defender Jovino Bento Junior, the proposed action is based on his position that it would be discriminatory for the retailer to base its recruitment “exclusively on skin color.”

Eleven other public defenders, whose efforts focus on cultural and racial subject matters, have publicly rebutted Bento’s objection.

The retail company introduced the trainee program last month, which is singularly focused on the recruitment of Black people, and explained that the effort was an attempt at promoting increased diversity in its executive positons.

Magazine Luiza’s program will offer 20 trainees who graduated from college between 2017 and 2020, a monthly salary of 6,600 reais, which is around six times the country’s minimum wage and a comprehensive benefits package.

Bento wrote, “All workers should have access to the job market in equal opportunities,” and agreed that affirmative action in some form is necessary, minorities should only have access to a fraction of those positions.

Warning that other companies could follow suit, Bento said the company’s method of “corporate marketing” would restrict “access to job and income” for non-minority candidates.

Magazine Luiza declined to comment. The corporation’s website refers to the history of slavery in Brazil and reads “innovative stories only happen through transformation, and transformation only happens through access. We want true equity through the richness that exists in diversity.”

The retailer’s billionaire founder and chairman, Luiza Trajano, said in a TV interview Monday that she established the trainee program after realizing the all of company’s leadership were white Brazilians, Reuters reported.

“Slavery was in Brazil for 350 years, the majority [of its population] is Black, the majority lives on the outskirts. This is the truth, so they don’t apply [for trainee programs],” she said. “When I realized what structural racism is, I even cried.”

Brazil has long dealt with issues of race and class, and its racial disparities are clearly defined in the population. The country has the second-largest Black population globally, who are underrepresented in professional jobs, where they earn about 56 percent of what white people make, Brazilian government agency IBGE reports. In addition to earning less than white citizens, of the Brazilians in managerial positions, only a third are Black and mixed-race.

The company program, introduced on Sept. 18, has already survived several legal assaults, according to Brazilian media reports.

A translated report from Brazilian outlet Forum said this week: “The Public Ministry of Labor (MPT) had previously dismissed other complaints against Magazine Luiza for alleged discrimination in the trainee program. For the MPT, however, there was no labor violation, but an ‘affirmative action for historical reparation.’”

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