The World Bank hit back at a wide coalition of NGOs on Wednesday saying that it was in fact broadening environmental and community safeguards.
Fending off allegations that it was “watering down” environmental and community safeguards for its lending activities and possibly endangering the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and others worldwide, the World Bank hit back at a wide coalition of NGOs on Wednesday saying that it was in fact “broadening the coverage of these standards.”
The furore stemmed from a leaked report of a draft safeguards framework, which, Bank on Human Rights, a coalition for human rights in development finance, said “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.”
BHR, which includes groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, highlighted the new proposals’ inclusion of an “opt-out” clause from protections for indigenous communities, of a definition of “discrimination” that was not consistent with international law and no rigorous framework for enforcing human rights.
BHR’s analysis of the before-versus-after comparison of the Bank’s wording on safeguards, shared with The Hindu by the organisation’s coordinator, Gretchen Gordon, is rigorous.
On involuntary resettlements and land acquisitions BHR supplied a matrix of evidence showing how the policy would get weakened over, for example, the issue of whether communities displaced by Bank-funded projects would merely get compensation or whether, as in the past, they would also benefit from sustained development programmes.
Similarly on environmental and social assessments BHR provided another matrix showing that the new wording proposed would result in dilution in terms of the use of “borrower systems,” by focusing on the project level, with “little detail on eligibility for use, gap analysis or disclosure.”
On a call with select media here Bank officials said that the proposals under consideration, which needed endorsement from the Bank’s Committee on Development Effectiveness before progressing to a second round of consultations with stakeholders, hoped “to use as much as possible the borrower country’s own environmental and social standards.”
Conceding that this may represent the shifting of some of the burden of safeguards onto borrower nations, Mark King, Chief Environmental and Social Standards Officer at the Bank said, “Borrowers go into agreement [with the Bank] with eyes wide open” and if there are unforeseen impacts on the environment or local communities the Bank has “various remedies” to deal with those.
In part, Bank officials appeared to suggest, this shift was driven by difficulties in predicting “ex ante” risk, or the risks arising when a project was in the preparation rather than implementation stage.
Thus the Bank would “take a project focused approach,” said Kyle Peters, Vice President for Operations Policy and Country Services, adding that in doing so it would consider what the borrower has in place in terms of legislations and authorities supporting that legislation.
Ms. Gordon however said to The Hindu, “What the Bank is referring to is that they have included new language on labour rights, indigenous peoples’ policy and discrimination. The problem is that at the same time that they did that they have changed the overall mechanism of the safeguards so that it is easier to get out of the safeguards – expanded the system but removed its teeth.”
Since India is the Bank’s largest borrower-client worldwide the change, if passed, could have a significant impact on the welfare of minority and indigenous communities in the country.
Additionally should such an outcome occur and present a political fallout, it is possible that the Bank would manoeuvre to avoid any liability given the new proposals for greater reliance on borrower safeguards.