10 teenage players died in a fire at the Flamengo youth team training centre this month (BBC News). How could this possibly happen? Why does it happen so often? And why is hardly anything done about it?

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Beyond the actual facts of this specific case, there’s a few things to bear in mind when looking at safety standards in Latin America:

  • safety standards, of all sorts, are normally very low or non-existing
  • that varies considerably across countries, remember there’s 20 countries in the region
  • corruption plays a part here: regulations can be avoided if you have enough cash
  • again, mainly because of corruption, when tragedies like this happen, no-one’s to blame
  • press freedom and democracy – or the lack of them – can also affect safety standards: a free press that can investigate cases and publish the names of those to blame, can play an important role
  • bureaucracy and mind-boggling legal and judiciary systems where trials can take years and be incredibly costly don’t help
  • low budgets means that companies cut corners a lot, and if they are not monitored and punished, they have no real incentive to change their behaviour
  • there’s also a cultural attitude that doesn’t prioritise safety (“we’ll worry about it when it happens”, “relax, it will be ok”)
  • that standards exist, doesn’t mean they are implemented – this is something I discuss with clients a lot – don’t get too optimistic when you see that a country has “stringent legislation” on certain safety aspects, make sure you understand how they are implemented, that you get examples of cases where companies/individuals have been fined (and how much and when) for not complying – don’t just listen to the politician that passed the law, listen to people on the ground who know what that really means in a particular sector/region

So if your key selling point is safety, my advice is:

  • think if Latin American markets are really for you – assess your global strategy first
  • make sure you find your niche – the country/region/city/sector and even the company/person that is more likely to see safety as a priority
  • don’t keep hoping for standards to raise – this would be a very long-term strategy because even if legislation is approved, implementation will take a very long time in this region
  • try and find another reason why they should by from you, at least to start with
  • remember you are changing mindsets, behaviours, you will need sales people with technical capacity but with enormous interpersonal skills, too, I think someone fluent in the local language in this case is a must to convey those more subjective, cultural issues
  • have a strong business case with numbers – and learn what hurts – if fines don’t, what does? Investors? Reputation? Research each market to find out how your buyers think and operate

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