Note from BBT: The tactic isn’t new. Whenever there is some sort of tragedy that affects people or causes death, companies associated with such tragedies go into immediate damage control that is meant to minimize profit losses due to a bad reputation in the minds of the collective public. “We’re sorry. We won’t let it happen it again and as proof of this, this is what we’re doing,” companies seem to say when such disasters happen. “We know we effed up, but please don’t stop buying our products or boycott us”, is what they’re really saying.
The French-based supercenter Carrefour provides yet another example of the the tragedy followed by damage control actions. As many of you know, a Carrefour supercenter location in the city of Porto Alegre was the location of the murder of a 40-year black man on November 19th. The assault and subsequent death of João Alberto de Freitas led to protests, some of which were violent, across the country as tens of thousands of people took to the streets and expressed their outrage with seeing yet another black man’s life ended through violence.
After the protests and calls for boycotts, Carrefour had no choice but to own up to its culpability in the contracting of the third-party security agents whose actions led to Freitas’s death. But as a man died, clearly this wasn’t enough so it had to come up with some sort of strategy to make this thing go away at least a little bit. So what strategy did they come up with? Well, before I get directly to it, let me set this up with a few other examples.
Last year, the rapper/entrepreneur Sean “Jay-Z” Carter made headlines when he made some sort of deal with the National Football League, the NFL. In the years preceding 2019, the former NFL quaterback Colin Kaepernick had divided opinions on mixing social causes with sports when he began to take a knee during the playing/singing of the national anthem at the beginning of football games. Kaepernick, once a star player, hadn’t been offered a contract by an NFL and speculation was that it was because of his political stance against the killing of black citizens by police forces in the United States.
When Jay-Z began dealings with the NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell, the rumor mill went into overdrive. “Jay-Z’s gonna help Kaepernick get back into the NFL”, said some. “Jay-Z’s gonna become part-owner of an NFL franchise”, a big deal as there are no black owners of any NFL football teams. “Jay-Z is gonna forces the NFL to deal with social/racial issues” still others believed. To tell the truth, I had no idea what the whole thing was all about but as I know how many black capitalists roll, I saw this as simply a manner for the NFL to improve its image with a nice payout for Jay-Z included.
Later, after I learned that Mr. Carter’s Roc Nation and the NFL had signed a deal to “nurture and strengthen community through football and music” with the NFL reportedly agreeing to “make some changes”, my hunch was pretty much affirmed. Jay-Z had used his clout and multi-millionaire status to broker a new deal, not for African-Americans or social movements, but for Jay-Z. Realistically, I don’t really know why people expected anything more. Nowadays, Mr. Carter has far more in common with NFL owners and team presidents than he does with the average black man in the ‘hood or even the black players that suit up for the games every week, so whose interest did people really think he had in mind?
Another example of this business tactic are the two very well-known black “leaders” in the US who, for many years, always seemed to pop up when there was some controversy involving one or another African-American. They might pop up when someone was insulted with a racist epithet or someone was killed in what the black community deemed to be a violation of human rights. Tens of thousands of people would express their anger in the streets, set things on fire, throw rocks at police, etc. and suddenly here these so-called black leaders to (mis)direct the demands of the people, most likely financially supported for their efforts and their role in calming the storm and requesting that black people “chill out”.
In the end, the situation would generally just die down without any real addressing of African-American demands. The same socioeconomic inequalities and police brutality continued as usual. What I’ve learned after seeing these situations unfold again and again is that it is nearly impossible to be a true social justice activist and capitalist/entrepreneur at the same time. The bottom line, the money, will always influence the outcome. And as African-Americans don’t weld any real power, justice can often be sold to the highest bidder. It is the ultimate “deal with the devil”. Accepting funding from the very forces that we claim to be protesting often means the activist, representative, organization or movement has been bought and paid for and as such, business could then continue as usual.
I’m not saying that’s always the case, but it is often enough. Which brings me to the current situation between Carrefour and a select circle of Afro-Brazilian leading voices and their white allies. Whereas the Coalizão Negra Por Direitos (Black Coalition For Rights) blasted Carrefour for its tactics (I’ll feature that in another piece), the piece below is far more critical of the situation in respect to Carrefour as well as the Afro-Brazilian members of Carrefour’s newly formed committee on diversity.
THE “ELITE” OF THE BLACK MOVEMENT IS FOR SALE!
By Leonardo Sacramento
Let us conclude: the media “leadership” of the black movement do a disservice to black men and women. After the assassination of João Alberto by Carrefour, the company seeks to reverse the wear and tear produced not only by the murder, but by the radicalism of the criticism, which came to fruition in some stores and occurred through the construction of a boycott.
One of the measures, announced on November 25, was the creation of a committee “on diversity and inclusion”, whose objective is to promote anti-racist training. According to the note from the multinational, “this committee was formed based on the dialogues resulting from the Porto Alegre tragedy”. The “tragedy”, more or less as the company Vale referred to the hundreds of deaths resulting from dam collapses in Mariana and Brumadinho, is a very well thought out mediation, since the contingent reigns there. If the stone fell on his head and killed him, it was obviously not out of malice. And the idea is to look like a rock. The committee’s motivation, according to the note, “is the moral duty to try to prevent more black people from dying.” As “trying” to prevent – let us be content with the crumb of the attempt – the death of “black people” is a “moral duty”, it follows that racism must be a “moral” failure.
The note was written with care not to assume criminal and civil responsibilities. It deals with murder as a tragedy and death as an individual act of the security guards and the company’s inspector. The note was written to make the multinational not responsible. In fact, it reflects the multinational’s attempt to show solidarity with what happened, as if it belonged to the mourning. The black background of the notes and the speech of the directors lead to this sharing of grief.
This committee is made up of black “personalities” and intellectuals. They are: former CEO of two companies Rachel Maia, entrepreneur Adriana Barbosa, social activist/entrepreneur Celso Athayde, professor Silvio Almeida, historian Anna Karla da Silva Pereira, lawyer Mariana Ferreira dos Santos, cartoonist and editor of Raça Brasil magazine, Maurício Pestana, and two white men, Renato Meirelles of the Instituto Locomotiva and diversity consultant Ricardo Sales. It must be said that a black comedian, Yuri Marçal, was invited to make a campaign for the French multinational and refused, responding to the email with a “go f*ck yourself”.
We can say that the comedian is more in tune with the hegemonic perspective between black men and black women and many whites about the murder than the black “personalities” and intellectuals, who preferred to join the committee, which has the political and economic objectives of recovering part of the market value of the company. Yes, shareholders like this news! They tend to upgrade the market value for concerned wealthy people, and that’s what large billionaire multinationals usually do to show consumers and shareholders that things “are going to get better”. Of course, “improving” is part of a campaign that shows that there is no need to boycott or burn shelves and goods. Hence the upgrade!
Shall we estimate the real value, the one achieved with the purchase and sale relations of goods, therefore, without entering into the merit of the purchase and sale of shares? Let’s go there: on November 20, Carrefour’s sales were aimed at “entities” linked to the fight against racism. According to a report from the multinational, BRL 25 million were accounted for, probably from a bad day, because it was the day after João Alberto’s murder. Let’s do the math! A supermarket closes on Christmas and New Year’s. Due to the recent labor reforms, it is no longer closed. At most, it creates the famous “special time”. There are 363 days left. If the value of the bad day is repeated every day, we will reach a fantastic figure of BRL 9,075,000,000.00. I’ll write it out to make it more explicit: 9 billion reais! It is much more, but based on the information from the multinational itself – which excludes profits on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, Saturdays and so on – we already have a fantastic figure.
It should be noted that outsourcing to security companies, which are directed by police officers directly or indirectly linked to paramilitary groups, is one of the measures that guarantee this fantastic accounting. Often, and this is no secret, security companies are nothing more than paramilitary groups that have legalized themselves. It is obvious that Carrefour has always known this, and that is precisely why it and all multinationals contract their services. It’s not in spite of this!
But what do these personalities do?
The first act was to ask Carrefour to close on November 26 until 2 pm, re-opening with a moment of silence. What can be said of this great employer act, reported by the media as an act of regret, mourning and benevolence? Who was this act important to? For Carrefour or for blacks? For Carrefour or for João Alberto’s family? For Carrefour or for mourning the death of João Alberto? The act is anti-mourning, in every way!
The committee proposed to the multinational to transform “the model” of security, “internalizing the teams of the three stores in the city of Porto Alegre”. It is not known exactly what “internalizing” means, as the multinational stated that this undertaking will have the “support of ICTS Brasil”, an outsourced company specialized in private security. The fact is that the French multinational is unlikely to change a business model across the country with recommendations from a committee. It would change or will change with the street performance of social movements. In political practice, the committee fulfills the function of overlapping the street performance of social movements. It was not the time for this spectacle of brown-nosing.
Before this adherence, it is necessary to conclude what many people have avoided concluding. Its conclusion and explanation is now inevitable: “personalities” and “leaders” of the black movement are more in tune with personal interests, such as the establishment of contracts with large companies, than with the demands of black workers. In other words, these “personalities” express the interests of a semi-black middle class, transforming them into general interests over all blacks, more concerned with eating and not starving or suffering from a bullet.
Take the case of Maurício Pestana, one of the committee’s “collaborators”. He wrote a book called Empresa Antirracista: como CEOs e altas lideranças estão agindo para incluir negros e negras nas grandes corporações, meaning Anti-Racist Company: how CEOs and senior leaders are taking action to include black men and women in large corporations. The book basically listed, according to the publisher’s summary, testimonials from CEOs of large companies.
One of the CEOs was Noël Prioux, Carrefour Brazil’s top representative, who, in the author’s view, already had the characteristics of an “antiracist company”. The author defined Carrefour as an “anti-racist company”. In other words, the author has the monopolistical discretion to certify who is and who is not racist. The publisher suspended the book’s publication. But publications about “anti-racist companies” still abound, almost all billionaires and multinationals. It seems that “anti-racism” has become a business.
It is relevant to note that these “leaders” and “personalities” have a certain fixation (fetish?) for “transforming” large multinationals into anti-racists, when the bulk of jobs in Brazil, somewhere between 70% to 80%, are in the medium and small businesses. We could suppose, in good faith, that among the “personalities” reigns the common idea, based on the common sense, that by “transforming” large companies, the rest would go together by the logic of the flock. But, it is more likely that the fixation for large companies is due to having more resources for projects and contracts, the new way of life of these “personalities”.
In particular, I have nothing against it, as long as the economic relationship is explicit and, above all, that this personal interest does not override the general interests of black men and black women workers and popular movements. Or rather, as long as personal and individual interests are not transformed into the general interests of black men and black women workers because such “personalities” have a captive seat in the media and access to the capitals of large companies.
I could talk a little about the genesis of these great entrepreneurs and companies. Itaú-Unibanco, for example, has all its initial capital based on enslaved labor and the sale and purchase of Africans. Just search for the origin of the two main families: Moreira Sales and Setúbal. Today they finance anti-racist projects through their foundations, as long as they don’t touch their businesses, all based on the overexploitation of black workers. The correct thing was that we were demanding that such families pay compensation, and not accepting that “personalities” are doing anti-racist projects with the foundations of these families, giving them the stamp of “deconstructed (racists)”.
At this moment, these “personalities”, anointed to “leadership” by capital itself, are being used as mediators of the overexploitation of black people by big capital. In this process, in which blacks have never been so murdered, the black committee of Carrefour fulfills the function of giving legitimacy for the murder to be transformed into a “tragedy”. These “leaderships” and “personalities” fall short of the needs of black men and black women workers! Even the boycott, which is a measure that does not actually interrupt the circulation and realization of the company’s goods, therefore, a politically very restricted measure, begins to suffer the boycott of the committee. How will black workers boycott when there is a committee of blacks looking to correct Carrefour for its good market image? The “personalities” and “leaders” boycotted us!
Note from BBT: As in the examples I used to introduce this piece, I have seen numerous deals such as the one cut in the current situation involving Carrefour and a small group of prominent Afro-Brazilians. Does this mean they sold out? I can’t say for certain without knowing the nuts and bolts of the deal.
According to the announcement, sales for profits taken in by the supercenter on November 26 and 27 would be “reverted to actions oriented by the Committee”. The big question for me would be, what will the Committee do with these funds and what actions do they think would be appropriate to address racist practices? How will the BRL 25 million reais be spent? Will João Alberto’s family be compensated for his murder out of this fund? Who stands to benefit from the fund and how?
I have to admit that in the current environment, it seems like the hustle in Brazil is companies participating in some sort of anti-racist campaign. Don’t get me wrong, actions must be taken to diversify nearly every area of Brazilian society, but as one prominent researcher pointed out, all of this suddent interest in diversity could simply be a ploy to attract and maintain more black customers.
I’ve noticed the view of numerous black men who are of the opinion that it seems that many black women who appear in relationships with men want to immediately label her new love as “deconstructed” in terms of any racist sentiments he may harbor. This is sort of how I feel about Maurício Pestana releasing a book about “antiracist companies”. For decades, black Brazilians have complained about being followed around in stories, accused of theft and physical assault in these stores, so how is it that Pestana is so quick to try clean up this image? As these incidents continue to happen, how are we to realistically come to such a conclusion?
For years, every time I see a black customer face some sort of racist behavior at some company in Brazil, I note that they are quick to release the typical “We at (fill in the company’s name) do not tolerate any sort discriminatory practices based on race, gender, national origin, religious belief…” blah, blah, blah. There numerous examples of this in this blog’s archives (see note one).
The devil is always in the details and not knowing the exact details, I will reserve judgment on the situation, but if it’s anything like other deals I’ve seen in the past it’s not a good look.
Let’s wait and see.
Too many examples to list here, but reactions to discriminatory behavior at places of business as well as the reactions of the company’s accused is pretty standard. For just a few examples, see here, here, here or here.