The World Bank at the World Summit: Green, Marxist or unchanged?

17 September 2002

The World Bank has been very active at the Johannesburg summit. It launched its new World Development Report, a new initiative to review genetically modified food, and gimmicks such as corny messages on recycled toilet paper for the 60,000 delegates. The Bank has made statements about the need to reduce agricultural subsidies in the North which sound similar to those of some NGO campaigners.

The International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the Bank Group, has also produced a major report on sustainable business and has been active with the Business Council on Sustainable Development. Campaigners have, however, raised serious concerns about the human rights and environmental impacts of a planned oil pipeline involving IFC backing for BP in Turkey, accusing the IFC of hypocrisy.

Meanwhile protesters have condemned the World Bank’s role in water privatisation, contribution to food insecurity and to debt burdens, an Indian NGO has refused to participate in the review of genetically modified foods, a contact in Washington DC has described the GM review as merely “a job for Bob (Watson) until he retires”, and many others have raised concerns that the summit process has been taken over by the instruments and institutions of economic globalisation – the World Bank, IMF and WTO.

The Economist has questioned whether the World Bank has “turned Marxist”. But a new report from the Halifax Initiative and Friends of the Earth argues that “in the decade since Rio, the World Bank has launched numerous initiatives in response to intense criticism. Despite these, little has changed at the Bank except, perhaps, its capacity to manage criticism. The Bank has failed to seriously address many of the problems identified in Rio and Agenda 21, including the burden of external indebtedness, the social and environmental impacts of structural adjustment, the poverty of vulnerable groups, such as rural communities and women, and the need for sustainable livelihoods.”

Our forthcoming Bretton Woods Update, due out in mid-September, will contain more details and analysis on these issues. Meanwhile we are posting a set of links for people wanting to look at some of the coverage so far. We have grouped the links under the following issues:

General World Bank positioning

World Development Report: Dynamic Development in a Sustainable World.

GM foods review

Land reform

Water privatisation

IFC support for BP oil pipeline in Turkey

General World Bank positioning

Marketing the Earth. The World Bank and Sustainable Development, (report by Halifax Initiative and Friends of the Earth)

Protest statement (Ghanaian commentators)

Speech by James Wolfensohn, World Bank President

IFC sustainability initiative

World Development Report: Dynamic Development in a Sustainable World

Download full report text | Bank press release

Heinrich Boell Foundation/Bretton Woods Project briefing

World Bank Does a U-Turn (Sunday Times, Johannesburg)

BBC article | Guardian article | Sapa article

GM foods review

Global Consultation process launched on agricultural science (World Bank)

Panel to review GM technologies (Reuters)

Halt GM crops (Friends of the Earth press release)

Land reform

Statement on World Bank approach to land reform (National Land Committee South Africa)

Protest letter (National Land Committee South Africa)

Water privatisation

Bechtel/ICSID dispute (Bretton Woods Project)

Water Privatisation “Harms Children” (South African Press Association)

IFC support for BP oil pipeline in Turkey

Press release (CEE Bankwatch Network and others)

Human Rights Row over BP plan to lay Turkish pipeline (The Guardian)

Trouble in the pipeline. The corporate promises being made at the earth summit are likely to prove hollow (The Guardian)

Please email us to suggest other links we should feature or with your views on the World Bank at Johannesburg.