World Bank releases revised ESF Guidance Notes for Borrowers

24 July 2018

The World Bank released its revised Guidance Notes for Borrowers in late June, after receiving more than 3,000 total comments from civil society organisations (CSOs) and others on the draft versions of the notes during a comment period that ended in December (see Observer Spring 2018).

The notes are designed to provide governments and other borrowers with guidance on implementing the ten standards that form the World Bank’s new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) safeguards, which will be operationalised from October. Despite repeated assurances from the Bank during the four-year-long consultation period on the ESF from 2012-2016 that the notes would help to address concerns CSOs expressed about potential dilution of the Bank’s safeguards (see Observer Autumn 2016), the notes still fail to address key issues raised by CSOs.

For example, in response to comments received on the guidance note on Indigenous Peoples (ESS7), which suggested making explicit reference to international human rights mechanisms, the Bank noted in its response matrix (where it detailed how it dealt with all comments), “A human rights-based approach is outside the scope of the ESF.” This seems to validate the criticism leveled at the Bank in 2015 by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, that, “the World Bank is currently a human rights-free zone” (see Observer Winter 2016).

Similarly, in response to comments that the ESF should do more to bring the notes in line with countries’ commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, the response matrix noted, “The World Bank is not engaged in the enforcement nor the monitoring of the Paris Accord.”

Meanwhile, a statement from the US-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) asserted that, “The World Bank faced criticism for failing to include the universal core labour standards of the International Labour Organization in the safeguard. The guidance note partially fills this gap, but the safeguard still does not fully protect trade union rights in many countries.”