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In Brazil, Firms Sought Black Workers. Then LinkedIn Got Involved.

Like many countries, Brazil has a brutal history of racism. From the arrival of the first European settlers, Indigenous people 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 fewer than 1 in 100 corporate management positions, according to one study.

The fight for equality has gained steam in recent years, in part fueled by a surge 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. Many conservatives in Brazil criticized the company, calling its policy racist, while many on the left cheered it on. “We were ‘canceled’ on social media, even by congressmen,” said Frederico Trajano, Magazine Luiza’s chief executive. Yet since then, similar policies in Brazil “have taken off,” he said. “The number of new initiatives is impressive.”

In the United States, companies including Google, Twitter and J.P. Morgan have introduced internship programs in recent years that are limited to certain minorities, framed as a way to create a more diverse pipeline of talent. But while there have been broad efforts to diversify the white-collar workforces at many American companies, U.S. law generally prohibits job ads that show a preference for a specific race.

In Brazil, several recent court decisions have upheld affirmative action policies, making the law more clear that companies can give preference to Black and Indigenous employees, said Elisiane Santos, a prosecutor in the federal labor prosecutor’s office. “It certainly is legal,” she said.

As a result, companies have become bolder. So when Laut, a research institute in São Paulo, posted its ad for a financial coordinator that “gave preference” to Black and Indigenous candidates, the move was hardly groundbreaking. It was more surprising when, three days later, on Feb. 28, LinkedIn removed the ad and told Laut, the Center for the Analysis of Freedom and Authoritarianism, in an email that the listing violated its policies.

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