The case of Lava jato: Examining the gaps between Petrobras' Corporate Social Responsibility agenda and their corruption practices

Barbara Voss, David Carter, Rebecca Warren

Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Paper


The paper examines the accounting technologies of social and environmental accounting (SEA) in its diverse forms (e.g. Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, sustainability reports, etc.) within the context of the Lava Jato Operation (LJO) – a corruption case – involving Petrobras, the largest energy company in Brazil. This paper is concerned with the gap between the disclosures of Petrobras in the CSR space and the mounting evidence in the LJO case concerning material and substantive institutional corruption facilitated by Petrobras with various political bodies in Brazil including Parliament, as detailed in the evidence presented by the Brazilian Federal Police in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) case (LJO). The CSR discourse from Petrobras is addressed in two phases. Phase one looks at the CSR disclosures prior to the breaking of the LJO story. In particular, we focus on how Petrobras presents itself as an industry-leading company that has significant anti-corruption agendas and policies, how it is a best practice player with membership and leadership with respect to the UN Global Compact and how it is a best practice model for giving back to and supporting Brazil. We also examine the response from Petrobras post-LJO where they constituted themselves as the victim of the corruption and maintain that the company is not corrupt (as all corrupted Petrobras employees are now ex-employees). These discourses are contrasted with the LJO files and with associated evidence and media discussions with respect to the corruption activity of Petrobras. We employ a narrative rhetorical analysis review Petrobras’ annual, sustainability and 20-F reports from 2004 to 2017, totalling 56 reports. For more than 10 years, Petrobras hid their corruption activity. The paper seeks to understand how their can be such a difference between ‘reality’ as evidenced by the LJO files and the presentation by Petrobras. We employ a range of critical literatures, including the critical CSR literature and hyper-reality as sense-making devices. We conclude that the extreme gap between the CSR disclosures and the corruption activities of Petrobras raise serious questions and concerns about the veracity of CSR disclosure.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages41
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2019
EventQRCA 2019: Qualitative Research and Critical Accounting: a Latin American Conference - Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota, Colombia
Duration: 28 Oct 20191 Nov 2019
Conference number: 2


ConferenceQRCA 2019: Qualitative Research and Critical Accounting
Abbreviated titleQRCA 2019
Internet address


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