Brazilian society is immersed in a web of complexities; these complexities are based on its colonizing history that affected all the relationships that developed from this in a tangle of impacts that shaped the situations we perceive and experience today.
We have been following news reports about the prevalence of people being subjected to situations analogous to slavery, environmental disasters, and violence of all kinds for a long time now. When we think about the interconnection between these occurrences it is noticeable that both cases are inserted in a territory that carries a history.
Environmental racism and its complexities in Brazilian society
With this in mind, environmental racism, understood as a form of environmental injustice that defines who can be subject to unhealthy conditions of survival for the benefit of those who are more affluent from a social economic point of view. This condition, or rather, this social place defines who are the privileged and underprivileged people in terms of quality of life, and dignified conditions of survival. This definition passes through the sieve of the racial-ethnic relations that were established back then, and that remain in our social imaginary until today.
The researcher of decolonial ecologies and environmental racism, Ana Saches, describes as environmental racism, the devaluation of life, experiences and knowledge of people who are read racially by society, such as quilombolas, indigenous people, riverine and caiçaras. From a social point of view, the lives of these groups, their cultures, territories, and ways of knowing are not important and, therefore, can be exploited and excluded.
From this point of view, we can understand that black people are those who are at the "margins" or subjected to the worst conditions of survival, in terms of environmental conditions, territories, work conditions, etc. Meanwhile, white people - or non-racialized people - are operating in the opposite logic, that is, occupying privileged social places in relation to racialized groups.
From this we can make these statements tangible from some important data:
- Data from the Map of Conflicts of the Pólis Institute, reveal that black and low-income people, including indigenous people, are the most affected by environmental disasters;
- When analyzing the places with the highest rates of environmentally predatory activities, the peripheral regions of Brazil are the ones that have the highest number of this type of activity;
- In the study: Environmental racism and social injustice in the cities, data reveal that black and low-income people are the most impacted in risk situations, such as flooding (hydrological risk) or landslides (geological risk) in the cities (São Paulo, Belém and Recife).
- Since the beginning of the year, 2,575 people were rescued from labor situations analogous to slavery, according to data from the Ministry of Labor. Of this number, the majority were men (51%), (80%) declared themselves as black or brown-skinned, and (58%) were from the Northeast.
- In 2021, the number of invasions and exploitation of indigenous territories tripled, with cases of increased illegal mining bringing to light the state inefficiency of curbing this type of practice.
- In 2023 the Yanomani people were victims of a genocidal violence that resulted in the death of 570 children due to malnutrition and diseases caused by the irregular exploitation of their territory by miners.
And what does sustainability have to do with it?
Looking at this data and at the past allows us to understand the logic of the destruction and condemnation of native peoples, low-income populations, quilombolas, and black people.
Globalization was the great phenomenon that accelerated the economic, cultural, and technological expansion; however, many illegal markets started to sustain consumption through obscure markets that, not by chance, feed large corporations. An example of these arbitrary practices were the recent episodes related to the flagrant cases of slave labor that occurred in the South of the country.
With the urgency of thinking of ways to mitigate the perverse effects of globalization on territories and social relations, sustainability emerges as a possibility to minimize the effects and impacts generated in the present. It is imperative to include the different stakeholders in the search for social justice.
Thinking DE&I aligned to organizational responsibility and promotion of social justice
Understanding the impacts generated by organizations in the territories is a primordial task when we think of strategic actions in DE&I. It is impossible to think of actions with real environmental impact when one does not know the territory, the people who live there, and their needs and desires. As pointed out in other articles, global companies operating in colonized countries, as in the case of Brazil, should pay attention to the context of inequality in which they find themselves, understand the local legislation that permeates the positive discrimination policies, and then tropicalize their strategies so that they are indeed effective and efficient in these contexts.
It is precisely in the construction of solutions that are good for people and good for the planet that organizational social responsibility is inserted. Organizations need to understand their impacts on society in view of the territory they occupy and on who else occupies that territory, aiming not only to mitigate their impacts on that place, but to promote a higher quality of life and equity. With globalization, people and consumers have become more demanding with regard to their consumption habits, their workforce, their investments, among others, and that is why there must be an organizational ethic capable of accounting for the transparency demanded by people who are directly influenced by an ideal of social justice and purpose.
New generations and the demand for sustainability in consumption
According to an MKinsey survey, consumers of generation Z (millenials), comprising people born between 1995 and 2010, are increasingly seeking sustainable ways of consuming, expecting more transparency, engagement, and commitment to diversity from companies. The survey also revealed that this public would avoid buying from brands that are racist or homophobic.
It should be noted that the Z generation in Brazil are the majority, representing about 30% of the population; by 2031 the income of this generation worldwide should reach 33 trillion dollars, i.e., it is a generation that needs to be on the radar of corporations, given its impact on global and local consumption.
Actions that can inspire the start
The advent of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) concerns the goals of strategic organizational investments related to the environmental and social impacts of an organization. In this sense, large corporations need to align their governance with practical actions that are able to demonstrate their ethical commitment to the society where they operate.
In market terms, the ESG represents an opportunity for stalkeholders to have better metrics for making investments that result in lower reputational risks. This is because when an organization causes social and environmental impacts that are harmful to a community or the population as a whole, it factually results in huge reputational risks, such as conduct adjustment terms - from a legal perspective, the loss of trust of consumers, collaborators, and investors. Therefore, these risks can negatively impact the bottom line and the value chain.
Investing in ESG and related actions in DE&I not only impacts profitability, but also mitigates the risks that can generate financial losses.
In the current context, the market and people are watching the organizations that manage to align the ESG pillars with actions that are truly perennial and bring positive impact on the environment where they operate. In the years 2021, 2022 we observed a great call from stock exchanges around the world, such as B3 Nasdaq, for listed companies to implement ESG-focused metrics, especially in pillar S "Social".
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the UN in 2015 are an important example of alternatives that can be implemented by organizations in the pursuit of sustainable growth. The 17 SDGs are aligned with targets and actions that can be put into practice and aligned with the ESG. In Brazil, the Global Compact, as a UN initiative, also helps organizations to adopt principles and actions that build strategies in the search for sustainable development.
This way, what we are doing....
As a consulting firm specializing in strategic and innovative creations in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), we always seek to connect our work to Agenda 2030, to the goals present in the SDGs and building materiality matrices of actions that are guided by ESG principles. A great example we can cite about the union of the tropicalization of actions before the environment where it is inserted is the adoption of affirmative action policies aimed at the black population.
One of our greatest opportunities was the customization and construction of the Black Leadership Program - Bayer Trainees. In 2020 we had 19 people integrated and hired, in 2022 we jumped to 33 positions and the program continues its course ever more robust and transversal. The program's main objective is to make opportunities more equitable for young black people, offering support for their personal and professional development so that they can occupy leadership positions in the organization, which adds value to their career and to the corporation's commitment to promoting racial equality through opportunities in the labor market.
If we look back, as we started at the beginning of this article, we realize that even today we reap the negative impacts of years and years of exploitation of the environment and human beings. The big question that arises is precisely what can be done so that future generations will not have to reap more negative impacts. Therefore, thinking about sustainable actions in the present is to guarantee that in the future we can see the results of what we are doing now. For this to happen, we need intentionality and social responsibility from the people who make up the strategic chairs of the organizations to contribute so that the actions that are built have sustainability over time and truly transform in a positive way the environment and the society in which they are inserted. Let's join together in this construction of fairer and more equitable futures? We are here to build together cultures that innovate, aggregate, and transform!