John Lewis, Global Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) of The Coca-Cola Company, participated in a program on “Diversity in the Workplace” in Rio de Janeiro on October 27. The program was conceptualized as an activity under JAPER – U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Promote Racial and Ethnic Equality. Lewis met with Consul General John Creamer, who briefed him on U.S.-Brazil relations in what regards diversity related issues and JAPER. At a roundtable discussion with Afro-Brazilian leaders organized by the Consulate, Lewis described how his company is attempting to start a discussion on diversity in the workplace so as to take advantage of the human resources and market opportunities in Brazil, where more than half of the population is of African descent. Afro-Brazilian community leaders in attendance applauded the initiative, saying they were impressed with Coca-Cola’s efforts to promote diversity in the United States and eager to see the company do more on behalf of Afro-Brazilians. They said it has been very difficult to get Brazilian corporations to explore issues of racial equality, and Afro-Brazilians still suffer from a veiled racism. According to them, as more Afro-Brazilians pursue university education via race-based admissions quotas, the level of discrimination they face in their professional lives also appears to be increasing.
The second part of the program consisted of a luncheon/roundtable discussion at Fogo de Chão Restaurant, sponsored by Coca-Cola Brazil. The audience was comprised of 50 state and local government officials (including the Municipal Secretary for Women Policies, Municipal Coordinators of Racial Equality and Sexual Diversity, State Superintendent for Racial Equality and the President of the Rio de Janeiro State Council of Black Rights – CEDINE), businesspeople, corporate executives, lawyers, Afro-Brazilian, women, LGBT and disability activists, NGO leaders, academics, artists and journalists. Lewis delivered the keynote address, while lawyer Humberto Adami, President of the Institute of Racial and Environmental Law (IARA), and Nilcea Freire, Representative of Ford Foundation in Brazil and former Brazilian Minister of Women’s Policies engaged in debate on issues he raised. The program was mediated by journalist Flávia Oliveira from O Globo and Globo News. In his remarks, Lewis stressed that inclusion has four successive stages: the fight for liberty, guaranteeing sufficient means of subsistence, investments in education and economic empowerment. According to him, successful business strategies for the promotion of inclusion should contemplate diversity within the joint framework of philanthropy, the workplace, and relations with markets and stakeholders. Lewis concluded that “(…) in the global world , the private sector should embrace diversity not as a way of filling in a moral gap, but in order not to miss business opportunities.”