Indigenous policy dilution threat

12 December 2000

The World Bank’s revised Indigenous Peoples Policy will be released in draft early in 2001 for further consultations. Tom Griffiths of the Forest Peoples’ Programme (FPP) comments: “we are concerned that crucial safeguards relating to land and customary resource rights should be strengthened in the new policy. The indigenous movement and its supporters will have to campaign hard to make sure the new policy is not weaker than the existing one”.

The Bank’s 1991 Indigenous Peoples Policy (IPP) aims to ensure that Bank staff, borrower governments and implementing agencies respect indigenous rights. Civil society organizations fear that a revised policy may emphasize participation and benefit sharing, but sidestep land rights and self-determination issues. The Bank started the revision of its IPP in 1998 as part of its general drive to simplify and streamline its policies.

Indigenous peoples demanded that any revised policy must be stronger than the existing directive and asked that the Bank conduct a thorough review of the difficulties with policy implementation. As the latter did not materialize, FPP and Bank Information Center organized a workshop in May to discuss ten case studies. Prepared by indigenous peoples from Latin America, Africa and Asia, the studies examined Bank-assisted operations affecting their communities and territories.

Evidence presented at the workshop showed that compliance on the IPP is often weak and sometimes highly unsatisfactory, especially with regard to indigenous people’s land rights. There was only one case where indigenous peoples felt they had participated in a meaningful way during the project preparation phase. Indigenous peoples still often find themselves worse off after Bank projects due to repeated patterns of superficial or absent baseline studies and oversights in appraisal and supervision. The case studies also exposed the structural and financial obstacles to effective implementation. Bank staff lack the time, resources and incentives to adhere properly to safeguard policies. Major reforms to staff incentives and budgets will be needed for more effective compliance. Workshop participants also called for:

  • Stronger enforcement mechanisms to back up loan agreement conditions;
  • Greater accountability of both the World Bank to indigenous peoples, with agreements that are enforceable in the national courts;
  • Stronger mechanisms for participation and access to information in appropriate languages;
  • Application of the policy to structural adjustment lending.

The summary report, individual case studies and other briefings on the Indigenous Peoples and Forests policies available from:

World Rainforest Movement

Bank Information Centre

Forest Peoples Programme