Volkswagen requested extra time to investigate claims claiming human rights breaches amounting to “modern slavery” on a farm it owned in Brazil between 1974 and 1986, according to minutes of an administrative hearing on the probe reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday.
Volkswagen was summoned to an administrative hearing in Brasilia on June 14 by public prosecutors to evaluate reports alleging maltreatment of temporary workers at a farm in Brazil’s Amazon region brought forward by the Ministry of Labor.
The minutes showed lawyers representing the carmaker said that the company needed more time to analyze the reports given this was the first meeting it was participating in on the matter, but that it was treating the case in a serious and committed manner.
Ricardo Rezende, a priest and a professor at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, had first gathered testimonials from farm workers before submitting reports of mistreatment to prosecutors in 2019. Brazil’s Ministry of Labor then independently investigated the claims, collecting its own testimonials from workers who are still alive, according to the minutes of the June 14 meeting.
“The stories are very strong, reporting situations of intense and long-lasting violence, of very serious nature… the situations depicted are some of the most serious which the Ministry of Labor has come to know of in relation to modern slavery,” the minutes said.
The testimonials included allegations of repeated outbreaks of malaria among workers, terrible accommodation conditions, debt systems, and discriminatory treatment between permanent workers in the headquarters and temporary farm workers.
A spokesperson for Volkswagen said the carmaker takes the described events at the farm very seriously but that it would not comment further on an ongoing legal investigation.
A second meeting between the carmaker and the working group at Brazil’s Public Ministry of Labor was scheduled for Sept. 29.