Brazil must improve track record on environment and human rights as a condition for OECD membership

Report released today demonstrates how governance failures are jeopardising the rule of law, human rights, and the environment in Brazil

Queimada e vista em meio a area de floresta proximo a capital Porto Velho. Foto: Bruno Kelly/Amazonia Real. Queimada e vista em meio a area de floresta proximo a capital Porto Velho. Foto: Bruno Kelly/Amazonia Real.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) must not grant Brazil membership before it has fully aligned its environmental and human rights laws, policies, and practices with the standards and values of the organisation. Research conducted by OECD Watch, Conectas Human Rights (Conectas), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH – notably within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership with OMCT), shows that the country still has a long way to go to improve its track record on climate change and deforestation, environmental degradation, Indigenous peoples’ rights, protection of environmental and human rights defenders, and labour rights.

By analysing these five critical themes in dedicated papers released today, the civil society organisations demonstrate how diverse and widespread governance failures are jeopardising the rule of law, human rights, and the environment in Brazil. Problems relate to inadequate and ineffective laws and regulations, the underfunding of key ministries and policies, failures of enforcement and accountability, lack of transparency and public engagement, and repression of dissent.

The research, launched today in an online seminar, not only highlights the main causes of these governance gaps with illustrative case examples, but also proposes domestic reforms Brazil should undertake to close them. The papers urge the OECD to require Brazil to implement the needed reforms during the accession process.

The research is being released in advance of late March and early June meetings of the OECD Ministerial Council to discuss the principles and “roadmaps” that will guide the accession process for Brazil and other candidate countries. The release of the research also comes ahead of the 29-31 March meeting of the OECD Environment Policy Committee at Ministerial Level, which will focus on climate change, among other issues.

“The OECD has powerful leverage over Brazil during the upcoming accession process,” said Marian G. Ingrams, coordinator of OECD Watch. “It should use that leverage to help realise these reforms by requiring Brazil to adopt them as a firm pre-condition for membership. The OECD should also ensure that the accession process for Brazil and other countries is transparent and allows for civil society participation, especially in candidate states.”

“The current Brazilian administration’s poor track record in addressing some of the world’s most pressing crises – from climate change to global pandemics – has shown its lack of commitment to protecting the environment, human rights, and the rule of law,” said Julia Mello Neiva from Conectas. “In Brazil, the most affected populations are the most vulnerable: Indigenous peoples, rural communities, Afro-descendant communities such as the quilombola communities, human rights defenders, poor and migrant workers, women, and children. We believe the government has often demonstrated complacency, or even complicity, in allowing social and environmental governance to deteriorate in Brazil.”

“This is the last decade left to meaningfully change the course of climate change – and Brazil will play a defining role in that. The OECD cannot treat Brazil’s accession as it has past processes, which have focused too narrowly on removing barriers to foreign trade and investment,” said Maddalena Neglia, director of FIDH’s globalisation and human rights desk. “We urge OECD member governments to take Brazil’s accession process – and the OECD’s own values – seriously and grant membership only if Brazil earns it.”

Brazil has been attempting for over a decade to align itself with OECD instruments. Membership would bring Brazil enormous economic and political advantages, including improved standing among donors and increased access to trade and foreign direct investment. Brazil should not be granted these benefits while its human rights and environmental record remains so dismal.

Seminar and official launch

OECD Watch and its partners launched the research at a webinar on March 22, 2 PM CET. Following a keynote address by Fernanda Hopenhaym, member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Conectas will moderate a panel discussion including Vice Chief Sucupira Pataxó, representative of an Indigenous group impacted by a recent dam collapse; Jandyra Uehara, national secretary for social policy and human rights at Brazil’s largest trade union CUT; Suely Araújo, senior specialist in public policies at the Brazilian NGO consortium Climate Observatory; Eric Pedersen, head of responsible investments at investor Nordea; and Daniela da Costa-Bulthuis, portfolio manager, emerging markets at investor Robeco.

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