linkedin: In Brazil, firms sought black workers. Then LinkedIn got involved

Rio de Janeiro: In February, a think tank in So Paulo was looking for a financial coordinator. The job was remote, the work was part-time, and, the post on LinkedIn said, preference was given to black and Indigenous candidates.

For Brazil, the advertisement was innocuous. Many Brazilian companies have begun seeking explicitly black and indigenous workers to diversify their ranks, a move to address the deep inequality that first settled the region centuries ago.

Then LinkedIn, which is major in Brazil, removed the listing, sparking debate over how a company based in California should treat a country in South America with its racist past and present. The following month, dozens of large companies protested, federal prosecutors questioned, and activists filed suit.

Last week, LinkedIn reversed its stance. The company, which is owned by Microsoft, said it had learned from experience in Brazil and changed its global policy to allow job listings that explicitly pursue candidates who “work historically”. But in keeping with the members of disadvantaged groups.”

The case was the latest example of how a handful of US tech companies exert enormous influence overseas, implementing global policies that often clash with those cultures or bring conflict, abuse or other unintended consequences.

“There are a lot of aspects to global connectivity that I would prefer not to leave out. But what’s coming out in this instance lies beneath that global connectivity and global dominance,” said Eileen Donahoe, a former Obama administration official who now studies global digital policies at Stanford University.

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In this case, the response was successful in changing the rules of LinkedIn – not only in Brazil but around the world. LinkedIn’s About Face shows how countries are increasingly backing down against big tech companies and forcing them to change their policies with global ramifications.

A European data privacy law that went into effect in 2018 largely led to the proliferation of alerts on websites asking visitors to accept “cookies” or tracking software embedded on the back of most webpages. The European Union is now ready to approve the new rules. The tech could force companies to make their messaging apps work with rivals’ products, perhaps affecting people beyond the block. And late last year, an investigation in Japan caused Apple to revise important rules for several app makers, while guidelines in the UK prompted the tech giant to change that to better protect minors around the world. how their products work.

“Often, the trend has been a de facto law or government regulation, forcing tech companies to rethink policies”, Donahoe said. But with the LinkedIn case, she said, “it was a more public outcry.”

Like many countries, Brazil has a brutal history of racism. From the arrival of the first European settlers, indigenous peoples were slaughtered for hundreds of years. Brazil imported more slaves than any other country and was the last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery in 1888. And today, in a country where more than half the population is black, black people hold less than 1 in 100 corporate management positions, according to one study.

The fight for equality has intensified in recent years, partly due to the growth of affirmative action programs. In 2020, Magazine Luiza, a Brazilian retail giant with more than 1,400 stores, announced that its executive trainee program would be open only to black candidates.

The announcement ignited a national debate. The company’s policy was criticized by many conservatives in Brazil, calling it racist, while many on the left supported it. “We were ‘cancelled’ on social media, even by congressmen,” said Frederico Trajano, CEO of the magazine Luiza. Yet, since then, similar policies in Brazil “have been lifted,” he said.

In the United States, companies including Google, Twitter and JPMorgan have launched internship programs in recent years that are limited to certain minorities, designed as a way to create a more diverse pipeline of talent. But while there have been extensive efforts to diversify the white-collar workforce at many US companies, US law generally prohibits job advertisements that show a preference for a specific race.

In Brazil, several recent court rulings have upheld affirmative action policies, making the law clear that companies can give preference to black and Indigenous workers, said Alician Santos, a prosecutor in the federal labor prosecutor’s office. “It’s definitely legal,” she said.

As a result, companies have gone bold. So when Lott, a research institute in So Paulo, posted its ad for a financial coordinator that “preferred” black and Indigenous candidates, the move was hardly unprecedented. It was all the more surprising when three days later, on February 28, LinkedIn removed the ad and told the Center for the Analysis of Freedom and Authoritarianism in an email that the listing violated its policies.

Brazilian private beauty company Natura & Co, with 35,000 employees, later said that LinkedIn had also taken down its ad looking for a person of color for a management job.

LinkedIn’s move has revived the national debate over affirmative action policies. LinkedIn was targeted at the left and seen as the champion of the right.

“LinkedIn’s stance towards Brazil is a colonialist use of the law to protect racism,” Pedro Abramove, former No. 2 official at Brazil’s Justice Department, said on Twitter.

LinkedIn’s official account responded, saying that its policy applies to all users globally and prohibits job listing candidates based on “age, gender, religion, ethnicity, race or sexual orientation”. gives preference to or excludes.

Professor Rafael Vicente, a lawyer for So Paulo, and who runs an initiative to promote affirmative action policies, began collecting signatures from corporations for a letter opposing the policy. More than 40 companies signed on, including Coca-Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Bayer and Unilever. “Such a policy could be a great blow to the country,” wrote Vicente, adding that it would reverse the effect of the affirmative action programs for which activists like him had fought.

LinkedIn is the leader in Brazil for job listings. Brazil is LinkedIn’s third largest market after the United States and India, with 55 million users, or 1 in every 4 people in Brazil.

After LinkedIn removed the ads, the federal prosecutor’s office in So Paulo, the federal labor prosecutor and a federal consumer rights agency sent notices to the company requesting more information. EduCafro, a racial justice group, then sued LinkedIn, saying its policy was racist and violated Brazilian law. The group sought more than $2 million in damages, which it said it would use for education programs for black people.

On Tuesday, after The New York Times sought comment on the removal of job listings, LinkedIn said it was changing its policy to allow such ads, as long as they are legal in a given country. “Getting this right is important and we are committed to continuing to learn and improve,” the company said in a statement. It 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”, although it did not specify how. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Brazil upheld racial quotas in public universities. And in 2014, a new law required that 20% of those hired through public service exams be black.

Vicente said that even when he and other activists began pushing for affirmative action in Brazil in 2015, Brazilian companies remained silent. “Now a global company has to backtrack on the subject,” he said.

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