Book examines World Bank campaigns

1 January 2002

Civil society work on the international financial institutions is analysed in a new book. Global Citizen Action contains contributions from researchers and campaigners assessing Bank/Fund monitoring, Jubilee 2000, and other campaigns on issues such as landmines and the environment. The analysis will make stimulating reading for everyone working in related areas.

The introduction by Mike Edwards stresses that the book is not intended just to praise civil society achievements but to analyse problems with its legitimacy and effectiveness. He says that global citizen action on the World Bank and IMF is arguably “the area in which NGOs and others have made the most visible progress in their lobbying over the last ten years” but that a huge agenda remains.

In his chapter Paul Nelson comments that NGOs targeting the World Bank may have inadvertently contributed to “larger trends that are shifting key policy decisions and authority into the international arena”. Manuel Chiriboga, writing about Latin American civil society, also takes up this concern. He says NGOs have to target not only international institutions but also their own governments. He points to the Brazilian Network on the Multilaterals as a good but rare example of balancing international and national work. It collaborates effectively with the Brazilian Congress to increase the accountability of government officials who negotiate with the World Bank and other multilaterals.

Jan Aart Scholte finds that IMF staff have normally “favoured debate with counterparts in mainstream think-tanks and business associations [while] civic groups that pursue a deeper critique have consistently had more limited access and a less attentive audience”. Thus little progress has been made in IMF policy on key social and environmental matters.

With other authors, Scholte also questions how representative are the civil society actors most active in advocacy towards international institutions. He urges civil society groups to “clean up their act as – and preferably before – it promotes better governance at the IMF“. In the book’s conclusion, John Gaventa aims recommendations at both civil society and public policy institutions. He says such global-level institutions will only become truly inclusive and participatory when they “alter their internal incentives and rewards, decision-making structures and knowledge systems”. Absorbing the knowledge in this book is a good place to start.

Global Citizen Action, published by Earthscan