Plan Risks Harm to Communities Affected by Development
(Washington, DC) – A leaked draft of the World Bank’s proposed new social and environmental policies reveals significant erosion of protections for communities and the environment, Bank on Human Rights, a global coalition of nongovernmental organizations, social movements, and community groups said in a statement today to the World Bank board.
The World Bank board should reject the proposed draft and return it to Bank management for redrafting to address fundamental flaws, the coalition said. A committee of the World Bank board will meet on July 30, 2014, to decide whether to approve the draft safeguards policy for broad consultation with governments and nongovernmental organizations.
“The Bank and its member countries have an obligation to ensure that investments in dams, roads, or other projects don’t result in forced evictions, labor abuses, or other rights violations,” said Gretchen Gordon, the coalition coordinator. “Instead, the Bank appears to be moving to a blank-check system, where communities will have no clear protections and little ability to seek recourse if their rights are violated.”
The World Bank pioneered the development of social and environmental safeguards in the 1980s and 90s after several high-profile development projects resulted in human rights abuses and environmental devastation. The revision of the safeguards framework is intended to update the safeguards and improve their effectiveness.
Nongovernmental organizations had said that the World Bank’s move to strengthen the safeguards was a positive step. But the leaked draft revealed an alarming rollback of protections instead.
“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” the coalition said. “Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice.”
The draft policy would, for example, allow countries carrying out World Bank-financed projects to “opt-out” of applying protections for indigenous peoples.
“The ‘opt-out provision’ of the Indigenous Peoples Standard is tantamount to the denial of the existence and rights of impoverished and marginalized indigenous peoples in many countries,” said Joan Carling, a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and secretary general of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, a coalition steering committee member. “Such a policy will only continue the bad legacy the World Bank has with indigenous peoples.”
Human rights were a key issue raised by nongovernmental groups, communities affected by Bank-financed projects, and governments throughout previous consultations on the safeguards review.
While the draft policy includes new language on various human rights issues, such as discrimination and labor rights, it provides major carve-outs and exclusions. The language on discrimination, for instance, leaves out discrimination on the basis of race, color, language, and political or other opinion, in contrast with international law. The provisions on labor rights leave out freedom of association and collective bargaining and apply to only some employees.
“The Bank’s policy review is an opportunity for the World Bank to finally make itself accountable on human rights,” said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher at Human Rights Watch, a coalition steering committee member. “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.”