Nearshore Americas

Reaching Higher for Racial Equality

Racial discrimination in the Latin American workplace rarely makes the news, but community activists typically say it is a serious problem that impacts the quality of life of Indigenous and Afro-descendants across the region.

Daniel Valverde, chief diversity officer for the Costa Rica branch of Spanish law firm, ECIJA, told Nearshore Americas that Latin American minority groups face a myriad of challenging conditions:

  1. Latin Americans of African descent are the population least likely to have completed high school (49.1 percent versus 45.4 percent of the total population).
  2. They are the population group least likely to have completed university (9.3 percent versus 15.2 percent of the total population).
  3. Unemployment is more prevalent in Afro-descendants, and their access to employment is often limited to low-paying jobs.
    Daniel Valverde, the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) in ECIJA

Indigenous groups, he added, also face stark racial discrimination:

  1. Indigenous people have an average of 6.9 years in the school system, behind the national average of 8.7 years.
  2. They are also affected by the lack of job opportunities and poor access to public health coverage.
  3. Unemployment is very prevalent in Indigenous communities, with a total employment rate of 45.7 percent.

Tanya Katerí Hernández, researcher with the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) has published research which says Latin Americans of African descent remain marginalized and impoverished. While advocates in the fight against poverty in Latin America often place class issues above race, Hernández notes the latter is the factor that has the greater influence on Afro-descendants’ life-chances.

In a 2015 article, Hernández indicates that there are approximately 150 million people of African descent in Latin America, representing just over 30 percent of the total population and more than 40 percent of the poor.

Racial Discrimination: Country by Country

Hernández highlights Brazil as a country with unemployment rates which disproportionately impact Afro-descendants. Afro-Ecuadorans also have the highest rate of unemployment in the country, she notes. When they are employed, they are primarily maids, security guards, porters, drivers, or temporary workers in the informal economy.

Tanya Hernandez, researcher and author

In Uruguay, she said, the Afro-Uruguayan unemployment rate is 50 percent higher than that of whites, and their earnings are 60 percent that of whites.

Mario Tucci, the founder and partner of MVD Consulting, a management consulting firm in Uruguay, says there is no research on discrimination in the global services industry in the region that he’s aware of. However, he pointed to research in Colombia and Chile showing challenges for Afro-descendants and Indigenous people.

Mario Tucci, co-founder of MVD Consulting in Uruguay

“In relation to industry you do not see [minority groups] being attacked or treated badly.” Tucci says. However, these groups tend to have fewer opportunities to find employment. In the case MVD, Tucci says his organization has been actively looking to expand its human resource base. “We go to Indigenous communities to see what is missing,” Tucci says.

One problem he found was that Indigenous and Black communities tend to live in remote locations and have limited contact with outsiders. Tucci perceives that there is an interest among some groups to ‘stay isolated’, but that Call Centers are a productive pathway to move into the labor force. This is especially true in Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, Tucci said.

“Some of these communities are not aware of the opportunities in global services,” Tucci added. “If the market had specific activities to bring those people into the industry, there could be a 30 percent increase [in Indigenous and Black engagement].  Tucci believes the global outsourcing industry should bring isolated communities into “the conversation” and inform them of the opportunities open to them.

The solution, he said, is for vendors to relocate. “You need vendors to come closer to these communities. They need to set up centers in secondary cities so people can come to work easier, instead of moving to larger cities where costs are higher.”  Most of all, “the industry needs to bring the conversation regarding education to the table,” and address inequalities for Afro-descendants and the Indigenous.

The Case of Costa Rica

“Unfortunately, Costa Rica also has ethnic discrimination against Afro-descendants and Indigenous populations, despite a long list of enacted legislation,” Valverde said. The government, he said,  has tried to tackle this issue.

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“There is a clear mandate for governments to prevent racism and intolerance in their respective countries,” he said. The prohibition of racial discrimination is a universal constant in legal systems across the world, he added. “Almost any international treaty on human rights prohibits discrimination of any kind.”

Valverde noted that the Costa Rican Government issued the National Policy for a Society Free from Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia in 2014, in the hope of tackling discrimination in education and employment.

The Labor Procedural Reform of July 2017 also prohibits racial discrimination in the workplace. If breached, employers are subject to punitive fines, the obligation to stop any discriminating practice, and even the payment of back wages if the employee was dismissed because of his or her ethnicity.”

Valverde said he believed both the state and companies are obliged to contribute to a change in depressing racial realities.

“Multinational companies around the world are now stricter with providers and suppliers to maintain certain minimum employment standards… A company that is accused of discrimination may see many business opportunities lost and see an increase in legal costs due to litigation.”

Therefore, from both a moral and business standpoint, “there is an obligation to prevent ethnic-based discrimination in companies.”

Avia Ustanny-Collinder

Avia Ustanny-Collinder is a senior editor at Nearshore Americas and an award-winning business journalist residing in St. Catherine, Jamaica.

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