Taking care

May 29, 2002, 01:00 CEST

Welfare of employees is moving up the agenda for Brazilian companies.

Social responsibility programs in Brazilian industrial companies range from free or highly subsidized medical and dental care for employees and their families to training and even basic education. Didn’t you finish high school? Our company offers you a chance to pick up where you left.

“An industrial company is part of the community and cannot survive without social engagement. This is, I think, an investment that a company which wants to be respected has to make,” says Ademar Cavalcanti Silva Filho, administration and human resources manager at MRN (Mineração Rio do Norte) in Trombetas, Pará.

For MRN, corporate social responsibility is not something new and trendy, Silva says. The company began its community and social activities long before the term was created.  

In the mining district of Trombetas, MRN has constructed a town which in December 2001 gained the international ISO 14000 grade – the only town in the western hemisphere that has received this distinction, Silva proudly proclaims. In a town that boasts a zero crime rate, the 7,000 inhabitants benefit from good housing, schools, medical care as well as a social club offering a wide range of sports and other activities.

In addition, the company invests some $80,000 per year on social programs aimed at the people living along the river. Almost half is spent on education.

Each year, about 2,000 youngsters – representing 35 percent of the local population – have their education partially financed by MRN. But it doesn’t stop there: MRN also offers training in technical subjects and contributes money to students who will continue on to college.

Even those who grew up before MRN started its programs aren’t forgotten. If they cannot read or write, they are offered a literacy program. So while Colete, a daughter of a family along the Trombetas, has been educated and has found a job as a technician, her parents are attending a course to learn to read and write.

Social spirit

Also in the state of Pará, the two aluminium companies – Alunorte and Albras
– provide extensive social assistance. According to Paulo Ivan Faria Campo, public relations manager at Albras, the company has spent about $1.2 million
per year in social assistance programs for the last 15 years.

This public spirit has also spread to employees. When a TV report last year showed the shockingly high rate of serious injuries in small brick manufacturing plants in the region, technicians and engineers at Albras volunteered to reconstruct the brick extruders to prevent physical injuries. In a fairly short time they came up with technical solutions to the problem.

In cooperation with municipal and state authorities, Alunorte is engaged in the Barcarena of the Future project, aiming to develop production activities in six neighboring communities. One of the agricultural cooperatives has started a plant nursery which will provide the farmers with seedlings. The surplus is to be sold in the open market.

Social coordinator Vera Germano is convinced that helping people help themselves is the best approach.

“We used to give economic assistance to people who came to us, asking for help which wasn’t very satisfactory for them or for us. Giving people a chance
to contribute rather than receiving, is a better approach.”