Groups attack World Bank standards

Friends of the Earth and Bretton Woods Project Press Release

2 December 2004

More than 200 civil society organisations and socially responsible investors called on the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank, to protect the interests of the poorest and the public when setting rules governing global private investment. The ‘Platform for Rights, Rules and Responsibilities’- which has been endorsed by more than one thousand groups in fifty three nations – was released as groups boycott the IFC’s latest public consultation on its ‘safeguard policy review’ in Paris [1].

The IFC is in the midst of a major revision of its environmental, social and disclosure policies, moving from binding rules to flexible and subjective standards. The IFC process has been criticized for both the direction of the new policies and the problems with the consultation process by civil society, investors, and even industry. Delegates representing hundreds of organizations have chosen to boycott and walk out of the consultations in protest.

Friends of the Earth International Financial Institutions Campaigner Hannah Ellis said: “More flexibility is another way to avoid commitments. As a development institution, the World Bank has an obligation to protect the interests of local people and their environment. We want to see stronger rules dedicated to the protection of people and the environment, not ‘flexible’ standards dedicated to the protection of big business interests.”

moving from binding rules to flexible and subjective standards

The revision process will have significant impact on global finances. The IFC invested $23.5 billion in the developing world through 2004. The IFC’s standards are also increasingly being adopted by other major financial institutions. The Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Citibank, and more than 20 other commercial banks called the ‘Equator Principles Banks’ (which cumulatively arranged for over 75 per cent of global international project finance) have agreed to follow the existing IFC environmental and social standards. In addition, some export credit agencies have agreed to benchmark their standards against those of the IFC.

Groups endorsing the Platform called upon IFC to:

  • Meet the highest environmental and social standards and ensure that corporations respect international human rights, labour rights and environmental law as conditions for access to IFC loans;
  • Commit and hold itself accountable to deliver on its stated mission of poverty reduction and sustainable development;
  • Establish clear mechanisms for making the policies more enforceable and accountable and reject the proposal for self-monitoring by corporations;
  • Screen all companies for their past performance on environmental, human rights and labour issues;
  • Ensure that conditions are in place for meaningful and respectful engagement with affected communities, and recognise and respect indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Ensure that information is disclosed in appropriate languages in a timely and predictable way throughout the project cycle;

The IFC is currently consulting on its proposed policies, but the consultation process has been widely criticized by many stakeholders, including civil society and some in industry, for being rushed and for not being fully prepared. For instance, significant details of the policies are still not available publicly in spite of the fact that the public comment period is nearly over.

For a full list of endorsements, the full Platform text and other the regional statements, go to Global Rules, Rights and Responsibilities or from the press office at Friends of the Earth.

[1] Friends of the Earth France is leading the boycott in Paris. For more information contact Sebastian Godinot at + 33 1 48 51 32 22 . Consultations have also been boycotted in London, Manila, Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi. Groups decided to boycott the consultations after the World Bank ignored requests to implement minimum standards in the way the consultation process was carried out. Groups say the consultation is meaningless as it stands.

Hannah Ellis , Friends of the Earth Tel 020 7566 1601 or 07952876929 (m)
Lucy Baker, Bretton Woods Project Tel 020 7561 7610