A participant in a March 2022 protest in Brazil. They are holding a union sign warning of price hikes if Eletrobras is privatized, and urging everyone to oppose the sale, for the sake of the country’s future.
CUPE is demanding that Canada’s largest public pension investment fund abandon plans to invest in an energy privatization scheme in Brazil. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is lining up to profit from the controversial selloff of equity in Eletrobras, Brazil’s largest publicly-controlled energy utility.

The privatization has been orchestrated by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in the lead-up to presidential elections happening in October.

Reports indicate the CPPIB is planning to take a significant stake in the utility. A number of CUPE’s union allies in Brazil are fighting the privatization and questioning the legality of the hasty sale.

The Brazilian government is a majority owner of Eletrobras, and Bolsonaro has made the company’s privatization a priority. Bolsonaro has championed the privatization of many public enterprises, including public water utility CEDAE. CUPE was an outspoken critic of the CEDAE sale – and the CPPIB’s involvement – when parts of the company were auctioned off in April 2021.   

The Eletrobras sale is moving quickly. The CPPIB and other investors have announced their involvement in the first stages of the selloff, in response to a call for interested investors.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that our public pension plan is using workers’ retirement money to profit from people’s need for electricity. Energy is a human right that is essential for survival. Privatization will make energy more costly,” says CUPE National President Mark Hancock.

“CUPE opposes pension funds investing in and profiting from the privatization of infrastructure that should be in public hands. Of course we need our pension funds to make decent investment returns. But this must not come at the expense of workers and residents in other countries. The CPPIB must pull out of this harmful Bolsonaro-led project,” says CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick.

CPPIB’s proposed involvement in the selloff of Eletrobras is a risky proposition that would connect Canada’ s public pension fund even more closely to Bolsonaro’s political fortune. There is a very real likelihood that Bolsonaro will be defeated in the fall by Lula da Silva, who is seeking re-election following earlier terms as president between 2002 and 2010. Lula has promised to cancel or reverse the sale of Eletrobras.

Photo credit: FNU/Federação Nacional dos Urbanitários