Photo: Felipe Werneck/Ibama CC Flickr

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the accession roadmap for Brazil and five other countries today, establishing a blueprint for strong requirements to protect the environment, human rights defenders, and Indigenous peoples. FIDH and its member organisations in Brazil Justiça Global and Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos , OECD Watch, and Conectas are pleased with the roadmap, which – if properly implemented – could push Brazil to change its environmental and human rights policies for the better.

Photo: Felipe Werneck/Ibama CC Flickr

The highly anticipated roadmap sets the targets and goals for Brazil in its quest for OECD membership. It must not only demonstrate its commitment to the OECD’s standards on paper, but also compliance of its practices and those of businesses in Brazil on issues of key concern for civil society. While this is just the start of a long accession process, the roadmap is an ambitious step in the right direction as it encourages OECD committees, member states, and Brazil to put the protection of the environment and respect for human rights at the core of the process. This accession roadmap, which has a more principled approach than the OECD’s previous ones, means that the accession processes could be leveraged for the improvement of national policies and practices.

Attention will now be drawn particularly to those countries that appear most aligned with the OECD’s standards. Nonetheless, as things stand, Brazil has major governance gaps and is not aligned with OECD standards; the country has not demonstrated commitment to the OECD’s values on the rule of law, protection of human rights, and environmental sustainability. As our research has recently shown, Brazil must make significant changes to ensure that protection of the environment and human rights is guaranteed. While Brazil has adhered to 103 out of 251 of the OECD’s normative instruments, the principles and standards in those instruments must now be implemented by the Brazilian government.

Echoing civil society concerns, some of the roadmap’s requirements for countries seeking OECD membership include:

  • Ensuring effective and ambitious environment and climate strategies demonstrating  actual implementation and no backsliding in ambition, including investing in climate resilience and adaptation as part of the national development agenda. The Brazilian government has not demonstrated commitment to the climate agenda. Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the country’s net emissions have increased 12%. Even more alarming, since the enactment of its climate law (Law No. 12.187/2009), Brazil has increased its emissions by more than a quarter.
  • Adopting policies for stopping and reversing biodiversity loss, deforestation, and land degradation that include a focus on respecting and enforcing the rights of Indigenous peoples and quilombola communities. In 2019 and 2020, deforestation rates in Brazil reached decade highs. Compared to 2018-2019, deforestation rates within protected areas increased by more than 40% in 2019-2020. In addition, about 94% of deforestation in the last two years was illegal. Forest fires have also increased in the Amazon. In 2020 alone, more than 30% of the Brazilian Pantanal burned, causing immense loss in biodiversity. 
  • Ensuring effective enforcement of environmental laws by strengthening the capacity of relevant agencies and ensuring civil society’s participation. Brazil’s application of environmental legislation has long been deficient. Important environmental protection bodies have experienced resource shortages, jurisdictional limitations, and arbitrary changes to their boards of directors, inhibiting their independence and effectiveness. 
  • Fighting impunity for environmental crimes, and ensuring that violence and threats against environmental defenders are rigorously investigated and prosecuted. Brazil has remained one of the deadliest countries for land and environmental defenders in the world. In 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders reported that 174 human rights defenders had been killed in Brazil in the period between 2015 and 2019. Moreover, the recent Anti–Terrorism Law and the National Security Law have been continously used by the federal government to politically persecute human rights defenders considered to be opponents
  • Implementing a requirement for environmental assessments with measures for transparency and meaningful, early, and ongoing participation by vulnerable, Indigenous, and local communities. In Brazil, Indigenous peoples’ rights have been threatened due to the discontinuance of hundreds of social councils and collegiate boards that had enabled popular participation. At least three such councils or boards linked to Indigenous peoples have been shut down by the government of Jair Bolsonaro. Similarly, Indigenous representatives have lost their seats on the National Environmental Council.
  • Demonstrating evidence of commitment and effective measures for promoting responsible business conduct, including specifically regarding respect for Indigenous peoples’ rights. It is essential to highlight that in addition to the responsibility of companies, the government needs to strengthen the protection of labour and social rights. The Labour Reform did not fulfil the promises of more jobs and better working conditions. In addition, there were a series of attacks on instruments and institutions that combat slave-like labor. There were also cuts in the budget of several public policies that promote social well-being.

The ball is now in the OECD committees’ courts. It is expected that over 20 OECD committees will be involved in a technical review and providing a formal opinion on Brazil’s fitness for membership to the OECD Council – the organisation’s overarching decision-making body. Their analysis should aim to uphold the highest standards of protection for human rights and the environment – and push Brazil to go further on the issues that have not been sufficiently addressed thus far, including measures on forced labour, rights of indigenous, quilombola communities and other traditional and rural communities, and connections to other international obligations. Whenever the roadmap wording has remained broad, OECD committees are expected to adopt a thorough understanding that ensures proper implementation of the highest international standards, interpreting any ambiguity under the pro persona principle.

It is essential that the committees’ review process be more transparent and inclusive; FIDH, Conectas, and OECD Watch urge the committees to open spaces for consultation and information sharing with all stakeholders throughout the accession process.