IFC accountability mechanism investigates World Bank-funded for-profit schools

12 December 2019

The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent accountability mechanism for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, published a report in October raising “substantial concerns” about IFC’s $13.5m investment in controversial for-profit multinational school chain Bridge International Academies (BIA), announcing that it will conduct a compliance investigation (see Observer Spring 2018). The decision takes place in the context of ongoing campaigns to end World Bank support for private education and instead ensure it contributes to the expansion of public education.

The report comes after a complaint was submitted to the CAO in April 2018 by Kenyan civil society organisation (CSO) East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights), outlining alleged BIA violations of IFC’s social and environmental performance standards and breaches of human rights law. The CAO raised alarm about BIA’s “adherence to relevant health and safety requirements” and the potential “adverse impacts to teachers, parents and students raised in the complaints.” The CAO also identified concerns about the IFC’s monitoring of its own client performance.

CSOs welcomed the investigation as another step forward in the long-running fight against the commercialisation of education in low-income countries, following recent triumphs such as the recognition of the Abidjan Principles in a UN Human Rights Council resolution (see Observer Summer 2019) and the Global Partnership for Education’s decision in June to prohibit its funds from supporting for-profit education.

In a press release, Dr Judith Oloo of EACHRights commented: “…We look forward to a rigorous and thorough investigation, and call on all investors to start taking action to avoid further harm.”