Global civil society achieves significant victory as World Bank discontinues contentious Doing Business Report

22 September 2021

On 16 September, the World Bank Group announced that it will discontinue its Doing Business Report (DRB, see Observer Winter 2019). The end of the report is a significant victory for civil society, popular movements and academics who have long criticised the report on many fronts, including its methodology (see Observer Autumn 2020; Update Autumn 2013). However, the celebration will be tempered for some by the Bank’s assertion in its announcement of the report’s discontinuation that it, “remains firmly committed to advancing the role of the private sector in development and providing support to governments to design the regulatory environment that supports this.”

The Bank made the announcement hours after the executive board authorised the release of the damning findings of an independent report, Investigation of Data Irregularities in Doing Business 2018 and 2020, conducted by law firm WilmerHale, at the request of the Bank’s ethics committee in response to allegations that the DBR’s data had been manipulated.

As reported by The New York Times, the investigation highlights a series of extremely serious issues with the DBR and the conduct of senior management, including the Bank’s former President Jim Yong Kim and then World Bank CEO and current IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. The investigation maintains that the management interfered with the report’s methodology to appease the Chinese government during the Bank’s capital increase negotiations in 2018 (see Observer Summer 2018). The report contains similar accusations of data manipulation in 2020 to improve Saudi Arabia’s standing in the Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Rankings by one of the DBR’s co-founders, Simeon Djankov. The investigation is also highly critical of the “toxic work culture” at the institution, including fear of retaliation within the Doing Business team and a lack of “consistent policies” guiding the production of the DBR.

These serious accusations bring to light once again the troubling findings of the 2006 independent evaluation of World Bank research, known as the Deaton report, which found that, among other things, “the Bank proselytised selected new work in major policy speeches and publications, without appropriate caveats on its reliability” (see Update 54).