For Brazil, the publicity was harmless. Many Brazilian companies have begun to explicitly seek out black and indigenous workers to diversify their ranks, a step to reversing the deep inequality that has rocked the country since the region was first colonized centuries ago.
Then LinkedIn, which is dominant in Brazil, removed the listing, sparking a debate over why a California-based company should police how a South American country deals with its racist past and present. Over the next month, dozens of major companies protested, federal prosecutors opened investigations, and activists sued.
Last week, LinkedIn reversed its position. The company, which is owned by Microsoft, said it learned from the experience in Brazil and changed its global policy to allow job postings that explicitly seek candidates who are “members of historically disadvantaged groups in employment.” ‘hiring”.
The case was the latest illustration of how a handful of American tech companies wield enormous influence in foreign countries, enforcing global policies that often clash with those cultures or lead to conflict, abuse or other consequences. unforeseen.
“There are a lot of benefits to global connectivity that I would hate to give up,” said Eileen Donahoe, a former Obama administration official who now studies global digital politics at Stanford University. “But what comes to the surface in this case is the underside of this global connectivity and global dominance.”
In this case, the backlash succeeded in changing the rules of LinkedIn, not only in Brazil but also around the world. LinkedIn’s about-face shows how countries are increasingly pushing back on big tech companies and forcing changes in their policies, with global implications.
A European data privacy law that came into force in 2018 has largely led to the global proliferation of alerts on websites that ask visitors to accept “cookies” or tracking software embedded in most web pages. . The European Union is now set to approve new rules that could force tech companies to run their messaging apps with competitors’ products, likely affecting people far beyond the bloc. And late last year, an investigation in Japan prompted Apple to revise rules important to many app makers, while guidelines in Britain prompted tech giants to change how apps work. their products to better protect minors around the world.
“A lot of times the trend has been real government law or regulation” forcing tech companies to rethink their policies, Donahoe said. But with the LinkedIn case, she said, “It was more of a public outcry.”
Like many countries, Brazil has a brutal history of racism. Since the arrival of the first European settlers, Indigenous peoples have been slaughtered for hundreds of years. Brazil imported more slaves than any other country and was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. And today, in a country where more than half the population is black, blacks hold less than 1 in 100 business leadership positions, according to one study.
The fight for equality has gained momentum in recent years, fueled in part by a wave of affirmative action programs. In 2020, Magazine Luiza, a Brazilian retail giant with more than 1,400 stores, announced that its executive training program would be open only to black applicants.
The announcement sparked a national debate. Many conservatives in Brazil have criticized the company, calling its policies racist, while many on the left have applauded it. “We’ve been ‘cancelled’ on social media, even by members of Congress,” said Frederico Trajano, CEO of Magazine Luiza. Yet since then, similar policies in Brazil “have taken off”, he said. “The number of new initiatives is impressive.
In the United States, companies such as Google, Twitter and JP Morgan have introduced minority-restricted internship programs in recent years, designed as a way to create a more diverse talent pool. But although there have been extensive efforts to diversify the white-collar workforce at many American companies, US law generally prohibits job postings that show a preference for a specific race.
In Brazil, several recent court rulings upheld affirmative action policies, making the law clearer that companies can give preference to black and indigenous employees, said Elisiane Santos, a prosecutor with the federal prosecutor’s office in Brazil. work. “It’s definitely legal,” she said.
As a result, companies have become bolder. So when Laut, a research institute in São Paulo, published its ad for a financial coordinator who “gave preference” to black and indigenous applicants, the decision was hardly groundbreaking. It was more surprising when, three days later, on February 28, LinkedIn removed the ad and told Laut, the Center for the Analysis of Freedom and Authoritarianism, in an email that the list violated its policies.
Natura & Co, a Brazilian personal beauty company with 35,000 employees, later said LinkedIn had also pulled its ad seeking a person of color for a leadership position.
LinkedIn’s decision has reignited the national debate about affirmative action policies. LinkedIn was targeted by the left and seen as a champion of the right.
“LinkedIn’s stance toward Brazil is a colonialist use of the law to protect racism,” Pedro Abramovay, Brazil’s former Justice Ministry No. 2 official, said on Twitter.
LinkedIn’s official account responded, saying its policy applies to all users worldwide and prohibits job postings that favor or exclude applicants based on “age, gender, religion, ethnic origin, race or sexual orientation”.
Raphael Vicente, a São Paulo lawyer and professor who leads an initiative to promote affirmative action policies, has begun collecting corporate signatures for a letter protesting the policy. More than 40 companies have signed up, including Coca-Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Bayer and Unilever. “Such a policy can be a huge setback for the country,” Vicente wrote, adding that it would reverse the effect of affirmative action programs that activists like him had fought for.
LinkedIn is dominant in Brazil for job postings. Brazil is LinkedIn’s third-largest market, after the United States and India, with 55 million users, or 1 in 4 people in Brazil.
After LinkedIn removed the ads, the federal prosecutor’s office in São Paulo, the federal labor prosecutor and a federal consumer rights agency all sent notices to the company asking for more information. Educafro, a racial justice group, then sued LinkedIn, claiming its policy was racist and violated Brazilian law. The group sought more than $2 million in damages, which it said it would use for black education programs.
On Tuesday, after The New York Times sought comment on the removal of job postings, LinkedIn said it was changing its policy to allow such ads, as long as they are legal in a given country. “Getting it right is important and we are committed to continuing to learn and improve,” the company said in a statement. He declined to comment further.
In 2010, a federal law in Brazil required companies to create “equal opportunities in the labor market for the black population”, without however specifying how. In 2012, Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld racial quotas in public universities. And in 2014, a new law required that 20% of people hired through civil service exams be black.
Vicente said when he and other activists began promoting affirmative action in Brazil in 2015, Brazilian businesses were still reluctant. “Now a global company has had to back down on the subject,” he said. “That message to businesses here is very clear.”
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