The Intercept Brazil: How metadata revealed lobbyists were behind labor reform amendments


By Alline Magalhães, Breno Costa, Lúcio Lambranho, and Reinaldo Chaves (Team Brio Lab), with collaboration from Bruno Pavan, Jéssica Sbardelotto, and Rodrigo Menegat.

As it turns out, lobbyists from business associations are the true authors of one in three proposals for changes to labor reform in Brazil. The texts defend employer interests, without consensus with workers, and were registered by 20 deputies as if they had been elaborated by their offices. More than half of these proposals have been incorporated into the text supported by the Planalto Palace (seat of the federal government). The text was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on April 27 and is now under review in the Federal Senate, with no deadline for voting.

To explore how these amendments came about, The Intercept Brazil examined the 850 amendments tabled by 82 deputies during the discussion of the project in the special committee on labor reform. Of these, 292 (34.3%) proposals were drawn up entirely on computers of representatives of the National Transportation Confederation (CNT), the National Confederation of Financial Institutions (CNF), the National Confederation of Industry (CNI) and National Association of Freight Transport and Logistics (NTC & Logística).

Image: The top 20 federal deputies who had amendments drafted by lobbyists.

The proposals put forward by the members modify the Consolidação das Leis do Trabalho (the set of labor laws in Brazil), in a way that would undermine the rights of the workers.

For months, there was no shortage of controversy as the public debated the proposals. But the government decided to close the debate and immediately put the bill to vote, as a matter of urgency. In a first attempt, there were not enough votes to speed up the process. But the next day (April 19), in an unusual move, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ) maneuvered and managed to approve the urgency. Because it was a bill, if approved by the House, it goes straight to Senate evaluation.

Creation and cloning

To arrive at the 292 amendments drafted by business associations, The Intercept Brazil examined all those filed by the end of March. This Web Scraper program was used to scrape the addresses of all PDFs on the project site in the House of Representatives. After that, Go!Zilla software was used to download all files.

Within the PDF files that detailed the contents of the amendment and its technical justification, we used metadata to indicate the original "author" of the file, through the owner of the computer where it was written.

There are cases where it would be normal for deputy cabinet advisors or even legislative council advisors to be the "owners" of the archive. But in 113 of the files, them the author was an employee of one of the four business entities. These same texts and justifications were cloned, including possible Portuguese language mistakes, by other parliamentarians.

In some cases, the device that modified the file changed, but the content of the file mirrored that written by business authors. In most of the reproductions, the author was listed as "P_4189", indicating the terminal of some Congress server. In other words, a specific terminal served as a "copier" of amendments originally drafted by the associations and eventually presented by different Members.

Image: Two amendments presented with equal texts, which would prohibit the online attachment of assets of companies that have labor debts.

But business associations weren’t the only ones implicated. There were cases of deputies who defended amendments in the interests of workers, which were also prepared by external entities acting in these interests. At least 22 amendments were drafted by the president of the National Association of Labor Attorneys, Angelo Fabiano Farias da Costa. They were taken over by parliamentarians who opposed the government’s position.

There were also 11 amendments whose original author, in the metadata of the archives, appeared as TST (acronym that is presumably Tribunal Superior do Trabalho, the Superior Labor Court in Brazil). These amendments were all presented by Ms. Gorete Pereira (PR-CE), and included content that would restrict current rights. The president of the TST, Minister Ives Gandra Martins Filho, is generally considered to be the architect of the Labor Reform presented by the government.

The lessons of Lava Jato

The data used by The Intercept Brazil was derived from the Lava Jato investigation. Lava Jato (Car Wash) is the largest investigation ever conducted in Brazil, which found evidence of kickbacks in public works and election campaigns, and directly implicated the country’s largest contractor, Odebrecht. This same company was also represented by a business association, Aneor (National Association of Road Construction Companies), in matters of interest to the Legislative.

Testimony from Lava Jato revealed that the corrupt relationship built with parliamentarians involved, among other things, the filing of amendments in return for financial support already given or as a condition for future financial collaborations. One of the most explicit cases in this sense was that of Senator Romero Jucá, who presented four amendments prepared by Odebrecht to Provisional Measure 255 so that the group's petrochemicals could benefit from a tax reduction.         

A spreadsheet organized by Benedicto Júnior, another informant, and presented to the Public Ministry detailed amounts passed on to dozens of politicians. One of the fields of this spreadsheet detailed the reason for the payments, and one of these categories indicated "a willingness to present amendments / defend projects in the Company's interest".

On April 12, the press, including The Intercept Brazil, published several reports on this promiscuous exchange-trade between parliamentarians and private companies for the defense of commercial interests in Congress. But the exposure of this relationship did not prevent the CNF from using an employee to deliver at least six amendments to the office of Deputy Antônio Bulhões (PRB-SP) for him to sign and present in the reform report on April 19.

This text is based on the original investigation, published on 26 April 26 2017 on The Intercept Brasil website. Brio Lab is an independent group of journalists in Brazil focused on investigative journalism. It has been translated and edited for brevity.