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Brazil And The Quest For Growth And Social Progress: FNI's New Input to the UN

The Facts and Norms Institute recently submitted a brief report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Olivier de Schutter, focusing on Brazil's progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prepared by Professor Henrique Napoleão Alves, the report offers insight about the importance of economic growth for human rights and the nuanced challenges of relying solely on GDP as a measure of progress.

An Opportunity for Inclusive Dialogue

Responding to the UN Special Rapporteur's invitation for input, the Institute aimed to provide an informed perspective on Brazil's challenges and achievements related to the SDGs.

The UN's call encouraged contributions from a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, civil society, academics, and corporations, to discuss paths to poverty eradication that go beyond traditional economic growth metrics.

The UN's call included questions about alternative measures to GDP, the measurement of care work, and whether the bottom 40% benefits from growth.

The Dual Challenge: Economic Growth and Sustainability

Brazil's narrative is one of pursuing economic growth, as highlighted by SDG 8, while grappling with the imperative of sustainable development.

The report stresses that while growth is essential for improving living conditions, it must not come at the expense of environmental sustainability or widen the gap of inequality. It reflects on the need for Brazil to craft policies that not only spur economic growth but also distribute its benefits fairly and sustainably.

It also explores the inadequacy of GDP as the sole measure of a nation's progress. Addressing the concrete example of Brazil, Professor Alves refers to alternative measures such as the Human Development Index (HDI), Social Progress Index (SPI), and Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which offer a broader view of the country's development by incorporating social and environmental dimensions.

Brazil ranks 67 in the Social Progress Index.
In Latin America, the country is below Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina, Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago and Ecuador.

Austerity, Health, and Unpaid Care Work

The report refers to the negative effects of austerity policies on Brazil's SDG achievements, as documented by two studies on how austerity policies likely worsened population health, children’s health, and inequities.


In another answer to the UN Questionnaire, the report referred to how one recent study proposes methods to include unpaid care and household work in national accounts, highlighting their economic value and advocating for policies to address gender inequalities and enhance women's economic standing.

Addressing Poverty, Inequality and the Bottom 40%

SDG target 10.1 commits countries to promote income growth of the bottom 40% at a rate higher than average.

According to the World Bank, in 2014-2020 Brazil faced negative growth, lower commodity prices, political turmoil, structural challenges, and the pandemic. The country adopted strategies to support the most vulnerable through the adoption of emergency measures and the expansion of the Bolsa Família.

The new government aims to further these efforts by raising the minimum wage and broadening social programs, steps expected to reduce poverty.

Still, Brazil faces entrenched socioeconomic hurdles. A significant portion of the population lives in chronic poverty while the country remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Regional inequalities are also stark between the poorer north and richer south, as well as disparities among rural and urban areas.

Poverty and inequality disproportionately affect certain groups. Nearly half of Brazil's children grow up in poverty.

The country’s productivity lags behind many Latin American nations, with growth relying heavily on labor, capital, and land expansion. This model delivers limited growth as the country faces diminishing demographic benefits, constrained capital formation, and deforestation from land accumulation.

These issues call for structural reforms and transformations that are challenging to enact.

To read the full report, click here:

Alves HN. Eradicating poverty, post-growth, and SDGs. Input to the UN. BR.
Download PDF • 1.44MB


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