Draft World Bank safeguards “a step backwards”

29 September 2014

European CSOs staging a mid-September protest in front of the World Bank office in Brussels. Photo: Arnaud Ghys

As the second phase of the consultation on the World Bank’s new draft social and environmental standards reaches mid-point, civil society has continued to criticise the framework, including through a dedicated website, www.safeguardcomments.org (see Observer Autumn 2014, Bulletin Sept 2014). A civil society protest is planned for the World Bank’s annual meetings in mid October.

The long-delayed draft was released in late July after the first phase of public consultation closed to the public in April 2013 (see Observer Summer 2014). The second phase of the consultation is open until 15 December, with the possibility of a third phase. Consultations in World Bank donor countries, as well as regional consultations in borrower countries, are being planned.

While the move towards recognising labour rights within the framework was broadly welcomed by trade unions, they criticised the draft’s weak language which leaves the Bank behind other multilateral institutions, including its own private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, called the draft “a step backwards” and warned that the Bank should “not undermine the progress that has been made by adopting a labour safeguard that is full of exemptions and exclusions.”

The draft has also been criticised from a gender perspective. In a September analysis US-based NGO Gender Action called the draft “hugely disappointing”. Gender Action found two major weaknesses that contravene civil society input during the first phase of the consultation: “First, its proposed Environmental and Social Standards (ESSs) do not include a freestanding mandatory gender standard. Second, the draft does not even ‘mainstream’ gender issues.”