New Paths for the Anti-Corruption Battle in Brazil: from Punitivism to Transparency 

May 3, 2021


The AntiCorruption Lab of Purpose Brazil seeks to change perceptions on corruption to move to a more democratic direction

Talking about corruption is not a simple task. This problem, which substantially affects different countries, is systemic in Brazil.

In the last few years, the theme has gained new contours: corruption has become one of the biggest problems cited by citizens in opinion polls and, according to a recent survey, 67% of Brazilians expect that there will be more corruption in the government. 

The theme has also been a daily highlight in the news and has even become a series on Netflix, inspiring conservative movements that took over the streets and the meaning of the word “corruption.” This scenario was especially stirred up with the biggest operation of battle against corruption, Lava Jato, considered as a major factor in corroding the structure of the Brazilian judiciary

Corruption finds expression in many different ways. In Brazil the concept of democracy itself has been corrupted. President Bolsonaro was elected in a heavy anti-corruption electoral campaign despite holding under anti-democratic values. Since his presidential inauguration, the government has weakened the structures that tackle corruption, public policies and the rights which were laboriously worked to achieve, rupturing our social fabric. In this context, the fight against corruption strengthens the punitive and moralist precepts of our society. 

Against corruption, in favor of rights  

How can we redirect the battle against corruption so that it strengthens movements in favor of democracy, transparency and participation in public policies, as to reduce inequalities of access to power? 

It is in this context that the Anti-Corruption Lab flourishes and it is in this direction that we are moving towards – campaigns and actions that seek to look at corruption through a logic of transparency, inequality reduction, participation and rights of all people. 

In practice: distributing power and strengthening different voices

To achieve this goal, the Anti-Corruption Lab aims to: 

  • Amplify voices that were impacted by corruption: 

Who suffers the most with corruption? The Peripheral Narratives campaign gathers the perspective of peripheral journalism collectives of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. 4 reports on corruption and access to water, communities of faith and participation, social participation and representation were produced and are being shared in new outlets, podcasts, communitary radios and even sound-equipped vans in favelas. 

Picture of person standing in front of crowded brazil City

Photo: Michelle Lacerda, Rocinha Resiste coordinator 


  • Engage through rights (transparency and participation): 

What if the fight against corruption was the fight in favor of equal access to information, especially in the context of the pandemic? This is the goal of the Transparency of Vaccination campaign. In a coalition of over 50 civil society organizations, we are pressuring the Minister of Health to release fundamental data and information regarding vaccination. The action site also gathers the main concerns and questions on the theme and shares available information, presenting the value of information as a service. 


  • Strengthen the ecosystem of organizations: 

What can we learn together with grassroots organizations? Which capacities, related to the execution of campaigns, can be developed? To discover this universe in unison, we created message tests with two approaches: one accessible and technical and other on values – justice, care and honesty – to bring insights on which message engages the most distant publics. To our surprise, the accessible technical approach engaged more and we gathered a series of insights from this process.

Picture of a box with hands pointing to it, showing message testing

Photo: Showing the process of message testing


  • Dialogue with new audiences: 

Is it possible to speak with the most different ends of the political spectrum- with dialogue and tolerance? How? This question has motivated us to build dialogue with conservative actors inside the anti-corruption agenda. In the following months we are set to dive into this challenge.  


Recovering the essence of the movement

At the end of the day, what we want is to recover the essence of the anti-corruption battle: the dream that people can have their rights guaranteed, through a democratic and egalitarian state where all voices are heard and represented. Though this work is specific to anti-corruption in Brazil, it brings many lessons to be shared with other regions plagued with similar corruption issues that bring about systemic inequities. This desire burns in our Lab and with it we will continue in this battle. 


The Anti-Corruption Lab of Brazil is supported by the Open Society Foundation.

Laila Bellix Senior Strategist
Choose Both: A Digital Guide
for Equity & Evidence