IFC boss makes human rights pledge

17 November 2003

In early November Peter Woicke, head of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), announced that the IFC was considering including human rights in its project selection criteria. The fact that Woicke approached the Financial Times with this information on the day that the IFC Board approved financing for the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline can be interpreted as either a response to pressure from campaigners or as a smokescreen to distract attention from that controversy.

Woicke said “we cannot avoid having human rights in our safeguards”. The IFC is holding informal discussions on the issue, which Mr Woicke recognises is “very delicate” for a supposedly non-political institution. He also told the FT that for the World Bank as a whole, which deals with governments not companies, “it is a much more complex issue”.

Mr Woicke said the IFC was also considering ways to improve disclosure. “We still hide too much behind so-called confidentiality agreements with the private sector,” he said.

Earlier this year leading international private banks such as Citigroup agreed to adhere to IFC social and environmental safeguards in an initiative known as the Equator Principles. So Woicke argues “there must be dialogue with the commercial banks if we are upgrading the principles”.

Whatever the motives for this announcement at this time, campaigners are looking to see what the IFC delivers on human rights. They anticipate that the final report of the Extractive Industries Review, to be filed end December, will give the Corporation plenty to chew on.