The internalization of global anticorruption norms in Brazil, by Marcos Tourinho

Brazilian anticorruption law and institutions transformed significantly in recent decades. From a relatively lax legal enforcement on corruption and other white-collar crimes, there has been a deep transformation in the way the country’s institutions address deviance taking place in the higher ranks of power. Albeit imperfectly (and still incompletely), state control institutions have been able to investigate and effectively prosecute sitting officials and others in positions of power. Large corporations, previously considered beyond the law, were punished and forced to change their approach. What is behind Brazil’s anticorruption capacity building?

In the article Brazil in the global anticorruption regime, just published in the issue 1/2018 (Volume 61, number 1) of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, the author argues that international relations were at the core of this transformation. Brazil’s engagement with global anticorruption and anti-money laundering regimes, with their dense intergovernmental networks and direct links with the financial sector, helped to produced new legislation, law enforcement techniques, and institutional practices that enhanced domestic anticorruption policy.

The paper explains the mechanisms by which these global norms and institutional practices were internalised, and how they influenced the formulation and transformation of Brazilian laws and institutions. For instance, critical legislations enabling more effective anticorruption prosecution were heavily influenced by foreign laws and international treaties. Essential investigation and prosecution methods such as plea agreements, sophisticated tracing of assets, and the use of software for treating large amounts of financial data, have been either enabled or influenced by processes taking place globally.

The paper describes three mechanisms by which the global regimes were internalised in Brazil: inspiration and legitimation, coercion, and implicitly through implementation support. It explains how the emergence of robust global regimes in these areas constituted an opportunity for domestic actors, who appropriated global norms to advance their anticorruption efforts domestically. As a result, Brazil took part in the broader process of global legal harmonisation in anticorruption and money laundering, which enabled international cooperation to became a critical anticorruption instrument.

It is certainly the case that the global anticorruption and money laundering regimes are not a panacea. As the article emphasises, both were developed from altruistic as well as self-interested motivations and often used dubious methods to reach current levels of compliance. These different motivations, such as levelling the international market’s playing field, strengthening fundamental rights and democratisation or managing global security threats, are differently accentuated over time and depending on the institutional context. In the case of money laundering, the deeply coercive methods used to achieve compliance create serious problems from the perspective of consent in international law, and highlight the deeply hierarchical character of even the most “liberal” aspects of international order.

Often, it was exactly the ‘softness’, or non-binding content, of those norms that enabled coercion to achieve global compliance. Globally, the largely unilateral pressure exercised upon private sector agents – bypassing national jurisdictions and diplomatic routes – was a central element of the reorganisation of the global financial system that made it more transparent and accessible for law enforcement officials. Although consented, the various systems of regular monitoring and evaluation of domestic policies present in the international instruments were deliberately designed to shape national government policy and provoke legal and institutional change in domestic systems. Global legislative harmonisation in those fields, a still ongoing process, has structural sources and is thus relatively difficult to revert.

It is irrefutable, however, that from the standpoint of domestic anticorruption and money laundering law enforcement officials in Brazil those global regimes offered an excellent opportunity to work more effectively. The still ongoing appropriation and adaptation of international norms and institutional practices by public servants has been central to their internationalisation through the various paths described above. Although external coercion does take places, it is still the internal activism of parts of the bureaucracy, using international norms, that promoted institutional change. This was a central element of the transformation in the relationship between Brazilian state institutions and its own higher ranks of power.

The developments described in the article indicate that it is impossible to explain the transformation of Brazil’s anticorruption policy and politics without reference to international relations and the global governance of corruption and money laundering. This article advances this debate.

Read the article

Tourinho, Marcos. (2018). Brazil in the global anticorruption regime. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(1), e004. Epub March 12, 2018.

About the author

Marcos Tourinho – Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Centro de Relações Internacionais. São Paulo – SP, Brazil (

How to cite this note

Mundorama. "The internalization of global anticorruption norms in Brazil, by Marcos Tourinho". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais,. [Acessado em 28/05/2018]. Disponível em: <>.

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