Just 5 months since the murder of Honduran environmental defender Berta Caceres, the Bank is passing new safeguards that do more harm than good.
The World Bank is expected to approve Thursday its new “Environmental and Social Framework” which civil society groups say weakens human rights protections and will likely endanger the very communities the safeguards are intended to protect.
At issue are a series of contradictions which strengthens the oversight authority of the very governments that are pushing the mammoth development projects typically opposed by poor, Indigenous and working class communities. The likely result, critics say, will be more conflicts and more corpses, doubling down, as it were, on 2015, a year which the environmental NGO Global Witness says was the deadliest recorded year for environmental defenders, with an average of three slayings per week, worldwide.
This year already saw the March 3 high-profile assassination of Berta Caceres an Indigenous rights and land defender from Honduras who tirelessly campaigned against a widely unpopular dam project once funded by the Bank’s financial lending arm, underscoring yet again the violence often associated with international development projects.
In fact, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim was widely criticized after he gave a talk on April 6 at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City suggesting that incidents like Caceres’ death, which caused condemnation and mourning around the world, are the cost of doing business.
Kim said that “you cannot do the kind of work we are trying to do and not have some of these incidents happen,” prompting a letter from 313 organizations and 31 individuals condemning the remarks.
In the same speech Kim also said, “I think our commitment is to hear the voices of the Berta Caceres’s of the world, we have to.”
But activists are skeptical, to say the least.
“Our concerns have not been adequately addressed,” said Prabindra Shakya, human rights program coordinator of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, or AIPP.
The AIPP is one of scores of civil society organizations and Indigenous and community representatives—the Berta Caceres’s of the world—who participated in the World Bank’s four year review and consultation process as it drafted its environmental and social framework. Many of their recommendations fell on deaf ears.
“The result of this review is a more convoluted, difficult to implement and in places contradictory set of standards,” said Helen Tugendhat, a policy advisor at the Forest Peoples Programme.
“Affected communities have the right to participate in such assessments under international law and in many national laws too,” said Tugendhat. “Failing to ensure such participation risks violating borrower governments’ legal obligations.”
For instance, Tugendhat explained that according to the new framework World Bank borrowers, in this case mostly countries, will be solely responsible for conducting the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for projects, which determines whether a project will have “adverse or significant impacts” on Indigenous communities, a prerequisite for triggering whether free, prior and informed consent will be sought by affected Indigenous communities.
This at the same shifts the burden of responsibility away from the Bank and allows borrowers, regardless of their track record of corruption or human rights violations, to bulldoze their way through projects without community consent, participation, or oversight.
“This is inviting abuse, given the bank’s track record of lending to some of the most repressive governments in the world,” said David Pred, managing director of Inclusive Development International, a human rights organization.
With regards to labor rights, the watchdog group the Bank Information Center pointed out that the new framework “includes provisions related to child labor and forced labor, but lacks reference to core ILO conventions.”
This underscores again how these “new standards move away from a rules-based system, rooted in a commitment to doing no harm, to a more aspirational and flexible set of standards,” as Pred pointed out.
The World Bank is proving once again that business comes first and that human rights are an afterthought.
“The underlying agenda was clearly to make the bank more competitive by reducing its environmental and social requirements prior to project approval,” added Pred.
The Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact’s Shakya said that this lack of clear and tangible protections will put land and environmental defenders “at risk and fuel further conflicts” in countries that will “trample” on human, labor, and environmental rights, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Peru, and Honduras.
Pred said: “The result of all this is a significantly increased risk that hundreds of thousands of people who will be forced from their homes, land and livelihoods to make way for World Bank-backed development will be impoverished, inequality will be exacerbated and human rights defenders will be endangered.”
The Berta Caceres`s of the world spoke up, as World Bank President Kim implored, but their pleas were largely ignored.
Shakya said that “it is high time that the World Bank and other multilateral development banks no longer enjoy impunity for the destruction they often finance.”
But in the World Bank’s 72 years, impunity is the status quo. We can only hope moving forward that community leaders who stand up to unfair and unsustainable development don’t meet the same fate of the slain Honduran community leader and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Caceres.
Cyril Mychalejko is assistant director of teleSUR English. Follow him on Twitter@cmychalejko
Photo: After the assassination Berta Cáceres in Honduras, human rights activists in Washington DC, protested at the State Department to honor her life and resistance. Source: SOA Watch/flickr.
World Bank Board Approves New Environmental and Social Framework
Package expands protections for people, environment in Bank-financed projects
WASHINGTON—The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) that expands protections for people and the environment in Bank-financed investment projects. The safeguards review included the most extensive consultation ever conducted by the World Bank. It concludes nearly four years of analysis and engagement around the world with governments, development experts, and civil society groups, reaching nearly 8,000 stakeholders in 63 countries. The framework is part of a far-reaching effort by the World Bank Group to improve development outcomes and streamline its work.
“The World Bank Group’s mission is to end extreme poverty and reduce inequality in the world, and this new framework will be a critical factor in helping us reach those goals,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “These new safeguards will build into our projects updated and improved protections for the most vulnerable people in the world and our environment. We also will substantially increase our financing of the safeguards to make sure this works as intended – with enough funding for both implementation and building capacity in countries so that they can a play a more active role in protecting people and the environment.”
The framework brings the World Bank’s environmental and social protections into closer harmony with those of other development institutions, and makes important advances in areas such as transparency, non-discrimination, social inclusion, public participation, and accountability – including expanded roles for grievance redress mechanisms.
In order to support the new framework—and meet additional oversight demands—the World Bank is on a trajectory to substantially increase funding for the safeguards.
Strengthening national systems in borrowing countries is recognized as a central development goal by the World Bank and most of its shareholders. In line with this goal, the framework places greater emphasis on the use of borrower frameworks and capacity building, with the aim of constructing sustainable borrower institutions and increasing efficiency.
“The new framework embodies the World Bank’s commitment to environmental and social protections and responds to new and varied development demands and challenges that have arisen over time,” said Alex Foxley, World Bank Executive Director for Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, and Chair of the Committee on Development Effectiveness, a committee of the World Bank Board that oversees policy matters. “The experience and capacity of many borrowers has improved and our requirements have been updated to reflect the realities of today. The framework is designed to boost development outcomes in Bank projects by placing strong emphasis on sustainability, responsible use of resources, and monitoring and evaluation.”
The approved Environmental and Social Framework introduces comprehensive labor and working condition protection; an over-arching non-discrimination principle; community health and safety measures that address road safety, emergency response and disaster mitigation; and a responsibility to include stakeholder engagement throughout the project cycle.
The new framework will promote better—and lasting—development outcomes. It provides broader coverage and access, and will benefit more people, especially vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. It will also strengthen partnerships with other multilateral development banks, development partners, and bilateral donors.
The World Bank now begins an intensive preparation and training period (12–18 months) to prepare for the transition to the new framework. The framework is expected to go into effect in early 2018.
Implementation will focus on supporting and strengthening the capacity of borrowers; training Bank staff and Borrowers to implement the framework; strengthening the Bank’s Environmental and Social Risk Management System; and strengthening strategic partnerships with development partners. The World Bank’s current safeguards are expected to run in parallel to the new ESF for about seven years to govern projects approved before the launch of the new ESF.
Assessing and managing environmental and social impacts in World Bank financed projects has been a core concern of the institution for more than 40 years. The Bank’s current policies, issued nearly 20 years ago, were for years viewed as setting the standards for Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) in protections for people and the environment.
The current safeguards review began in July 2012. Responding in part to a 2010 report from the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), the Board instructed management to revise the existing safeguards policies to increase coverage, social inclusion, and harmonization across the Bank Group; enhance client capacity, responsibility and ownership; strengthen safeguards supervision, monitoring, evaluation to ensure rigorous implementation of our policies; and improve accountability and grievance redress systems and instruments for communities and individuals who want to express their concerns about World Bank-financed investment projects.
Original press release
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