9:56 pm - Wednesday November 4, 2015

World Bank rolling back safeguards: leaked report

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The World Bank may be on the verge of rolling back a wide range of in-built environmental and community protections surrounding its development projects worldwide, and this could in turn threaten community livelihoods across the board, according to analyses of a leaked draft safeguard framework distributed this month to the Bank’s Committee on Development Effectiveness.

Commenting on the proposals contained within the leaked report, Bank on Human Rights, a coalition for human rights in development finance, said that although there were several areas where the language was improved, “The fact that the proposed framework itself moves from one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance, threatens to render… technical improvements meaningless.”

The impact on India could be substantial, especially as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said after meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 23 that the Bank “will be ready to provide financial support worth $15-18 billion over the next three years,” underscoring that India was already “the largest client for the World Bank Group, which committed a total of $6.4 billion to the country during its last fiscal year.”

In an email response to queries from The Hindu a World Bank spokesperson said that the Bank’s safeguard policies were “at the centre of our efforts to protect people and the environment and to achieve our goals to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity in a sustainable manner in our partner countries.”

He added that the Bank was “currently in the process of reviewing and updating our safeguard policies [which the Bank wanted to include] standards that are clear to those impacted by the projects we finance, those who implement, and those holding us to account.” However in a letter to the Bank’s board BHR urged that the proposed draft be rejected and sent back for revision of, for example, the new opt-out provision in the Indigenous Peoples Standard, which “renders the policy meaningless.”

Others seemed to concur, with Joan Carling, a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, warning that this provision was, “tantamount to the denial of the existence and rights of impoverished and marginalized indigenous peoples in many countries,” and would “only continue the bad legacy the World Bank has with indigenous peoples.”

Other “dilutions,” affect the draft’s language on discrimination, which “leaves out discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, and political or other opinion,” in contrast with international law, according to Human Rights Watch.

The provisions on labour rights similarly omit freedom of association and collective bargaining and apply to only some employees, HRW noted.

Under the broad rubric of ‘more carve-outs than coverage,’ critics of the Bank’s latest proposed move noted that borrower systems may replace application of the safeguards, with no clear minimum standard for determining their adequacy; and sub-projects classified by borrowers as Substantial Risk need only comply with national laws, not the safeguards.

On human rights BHR noted that the vision statement did not contain any enforceable clauses, rather they were, “limited in scope, and takes for granted that the Bank’s operations are supportive of human rights without providing a framework for ensuring this.”

Most relevant to indigenous communities, BHR noted that the Involuntary Resettlement Standard “fails to ensure that projects resulting in physical or economic displacement have a legitimate public interest purpose and that there are no viable alternatives, consistent with international law.”

On the next steps forward the Bank spokesperson explained, “A Proposed Environmental and Social Framework will be discussed by our Board’s Committee on Development Effectiveness at the end of July, where we will be seeking their agreement to use the proposed framework as the basis for a second round of global multi-stakeholder consultations,” adding that the Bank would use input from the consultation to “refine” the proposals.

Nevertheless Jessica Evans, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch said, “If the Bank’s board allows the draft policy to go out without fixing these major flaws, it sends a message that respect for human rights remains discretionary at the Bank.”

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