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Brazil gives multinationals a chance to polish their image

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A German chemicals manufacturer gives microscopes to Brazilian public schools and runs TV ads to get children to form science clubs. Coca-Cola prints magazine ads to tell people it has confidence in the country and is investing money here.

As Brazil's three-year-old civilian government tries to cross the rocky ground to a functioning democracy, the changes are already making a difference for the multinational companies here.

``In a democratic environment, a company begins to understand that if it relates to the surrounding community, it will have allies. If not, it won't have allies,'' says Nemercio Nogueira, corporate affairs director at a leading Brazilian machinery manufacturer, and author of a new book on democracy and corporate communication.

During Brazil's 21-year military dictatorship that ended in 1985, foreign companies from the United States and elsewhere were often forced to keep a low profile. For one thing, the nationalist military used slogans such as ``The petroleum is ours,'' and kept multinationals out of the infant computer industry. Meanwhile, many universities taught students that foreign companies were in Brazil only to exploit its natural resources and cheap labor, barring the way to lasting economic development.

Real decisionmaking, however, centered on the president and his handpicked ministers. In a business crisis, all an executive needed was to know the right man at the right government ministry.

But the new Constitution, promulgated Oct. 5, decentralizes government, protects individual and civil rights, safeguards the environment, and outlaws censorship. These changes have shaken up the relationships among government, business, workers, and consumers.

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