“I don’t interview blacks”: Brazil’s racist corporate culture

President of Brazilian division of Bayer tells story of Afro-Brazilian friend rejected out of hand for job

Theo Van der Loo, the head of the Brazilian division of multinational pharmaceutical company Bayer says he is “puzzled” and “scared” after he unwittingly sparked a debate in the South American country about racism.

A black woman looks at job advertisements in a São Paulo street.
A black woman looks at job advertisements in a São Paulo street.MARCOS SANTOS / JORNAL DA USP

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Van der Loo recently published a post on business and employment-oriented social networking service LinkedIn citing the case of a friend who was turned down for a job interview because he was black. The post on the employment-oriented social network soon went viral, prompting Van der Loo to clarify his position: “As president of Bayer, this is not my cause, because I am president today and not tomorrow. I am defending this cause as a Brazilian citizen. I would prefer not to do it and for society to do so. But I am not trying to lead anything.”

In his piece, Van der Loo tells the story of the young man, whom he gives the fictitious name of Jorge, an IT graduate with a good CV who recently applied for a job with a Brazilian company. After being called to interview, Jorge met with somebody from the human resources department and her boss, who was supposed to interview him. The meeting never took place and Jorge says he overheard the head of department chide the employee, saying: “I don’t interview blacks.”

Jorge then told Van der Loo, who is white but was brought up close to one of São Paulo’s favelas. He in turn wrote about the incident on LinkedIn. “I told my friend he should report what happened. But that was the other surprise.” He told Van der Loo that he had decided not to because it would destroy his image, saying that he was from a humble family and had found it hard enough to get this far in life.

Bayer Brazil has set up a commission focused on hiring minorities

Van der Loo agreed to talk to EL PAÍS, while Jorge refused. “He is afraid of being recognized and not finding work again,” he says. Jorge’s case is far from unique and reflects the racial divide in Brazil, where 53% of the population describes itself as black, but where blacks make up just 17.4% of the wealthiest segment of the population, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.

“Blacks have more difficulties finding work,” says Van der Loo, explaining that Bayer’s response to the problem has been to set up a committee focused on hiring minorities. “Each executive president is responsible. If we want to be a better country, we cannot ignore social inequality, which in Brazil affects blacks the most. We need more blacks in companies and going to universities. That’s what’s best for the country.”

English version by Nick Lyne.

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