It’s just the tip of the iceberg: civil society organisations call for an overhaul of the World Bank following the Doing Business Report scandal

19 April 2022 | Letters

In September, the World Bank announced that it would discontinue the publication of the Doing Business Report and Ranking (DBR). This overdue decision came after a series of internal audits and an investigation that revealed serious ethical improprieties, conflicts of interest inherent in the Bank’s Advisory Services and data manipulation in the development of the Doing Business. But the current revelations are just the tip of the iceberg of much wider issues. 

By ranking countries on the grounds of regressive indicators, for 18 years the DBR has caused much harm, driving countries to a race to the bottom of business deregulation, eroding tax and social security systems, and removing critical workers’ protections. It undermined their ability to pursue industrial development and economic diversification in order to attract private foreign capital. More than any of its other flagship publications, the DBR most strongly embodied the World Bank’s neoliberal ideology, imparting a view of economic development as a competition between countries that can only be won by reducing the role of the state and creating the conditions for runaway capital. It also embodied the contradiction of an institution that is set up and supported with public resources to fight poverty, but too often puts profit before people. 

The harm caused by the DBR needs to be recognised, repaired, and prevented from happening again, including by DBR offshoots, such as its Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) rankings. Any new manifestation of the DBR is therefore unacceptable

The most recent reports, which include an investigation by a law firm and a methodology review by an independent panel, revealed that data had been manipulated to change the rankings of five countries (China, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Azerbaijan) to accommodate vested interests and under undue pressure from World Bank leadership. These findings come in addition to a long history of misconduct and manipulations. 

These revelations call into question not only the credibility and legitimacy of the World Bank in its self-proclaimed role as policy advisor for the world, but also its ability to conduct objective and independent research. They reflect deep structural problems, long highlighted by civil society, including:

  • An undemocratic governance system that makes decision-making within the Bank prone to capture and manipulation in the name of geopolitical interests. The Bank’s quota voting system structurally underrepresents the global south and overwhelmingly favours the global north, while its leadership selection process is governed by an informal colonial gentleman’s agreement in which the United States and Europe lead by default the WB and the IMF, respectively.   
  • An internal accountability deficit, reflected in the lack of independence and integrity of research, reluctance to engage with critique, and widespread conflict of interest in lending and policy advice that leaves huge loopholes for corruption. 
  • Ideological bias in policy advice and conditionality, in favour of austerity, deregulation, and privatisation that systematically reduces countries’ fiscal and policy space and hollows out the state in favour of private financial interests, to the detriment of people and the planet. 
  • The inability of the World Bank to engage meaningfully with the international human rights framework or to assist its member countries in complying with their human rights obligations, including adopting a proper human rights assessment of its policy advice and country operations. 

Yet, instead of announcing comprehensive measures to address its lack of transparency, accountability and research integrity, the World Bank has engaged in a blame game that is placing all responsibility on one single individual, Kristalina Georgieva, while reinforcing its intention to go back to business as usual. It does not go unnoticed that Georgieva also happens to be a female leader in a world dominated by men, while current World Bank leadership, namely David Malpass, has remained unquestioned. 

Blaming single individuals without addressing the faults in the system and its ideological bias is not a credible or adequate response for a leading global institution like the World Bank. The discontinuation of the DBR must be followed by a deep rethinking of the institution’s governance, processes and ideologies. 

A credible response requires nothing less than a structural overhaul, including:

  1. End the gentleman’s agreement in the leadership selection process, reform the quota system to give more power to countries from the global south, as well as to economic ideas and policy tools from the global south in an effort to decolonise the World Bank Group’s knowledge systems and decision-making. The use of policy conditionality and other forms of undue influence on the policy space of developing countries must also come to a termination.
  2. Overcome the ideological bias in favour of neoliberal policies starting with abandoning a ‘private-first’ agenda and adopting a definition of ‘enabling business environment‘ that aims at economic diversification and resilience and properly values people and the planet. Operations must also be fully aligned  with the Sustainable Development Goals and international standards on human rights, labour and the environment. 
  3. Review the integrity and independence of the World Bank’s research and technical assistance, and implement reforms that increase its internal and external scrutiny, avoid conflict of interest, ensure exposure to critical analysis, and enable greater transparency and citizen oversight. 
  4. Adopt a ‘do no harm approach’ to its policy advice and lending operations, through systematic Human Rights Impact Assessments. The Bank must also engage in a more proactive way with the human rights framework. 

As we enter the World Bank’s Annual Meetings and critical discussions on how the Bretton Woods Institutions are to support countries in the Covid-19 recovery, it is imperative that the World Bank focuses on grappling with the harms caused by its undemocratic governance structure and biased publications like the Doing Business Report, and that it takes measures to decolonise the institution.


1 A 11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, Serbia
2 ActionAid International
4 Aid Organization
5 Alliance Sud
6 Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)
7 Anadolu University
8 APMDD – Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development
9 Arab Watch Coalition
10 Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
11 Association For Promotion Sustainable Development
12 ATTAC-Ireland
13 Bahrain Human Rights Society
14 Big Shift Global
15 The Bretton Woods Project
16 CAFOD (United Kingdom)
17 Campaign of Campaigns
18 Casa Generalizia della Societa del Sacro Cuore
19 CCFD-Terre Solidaire
21 Center for Demovracy and Development (CDD)
22 Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA)
24 Christian Aid
25 CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network)
26 Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ)
27 Congregation of the Mission
28 Cooperation for Peace and Development (CPD)
29 Corporate Europe Observatory 
30 DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era)
31 DemNet Hungary
32 Democratic Socialists of America, International Committee, Economics + Trade
33 Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales DAR
34 Dhulikhel
35 Earth Activist Training
36 Economy and Society Trust
37 Ekumenická akademie (Ecumenical Academy)
38 Equidad de Género: Ciudadanía, Trabajo y Familia
39 Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation
40 Eurodad
41 Fight Inequality Alliance
42 Financial Transparency Coalition
43 FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development
44 Fondazione Proclade Internazionale-onlus
45 Forum de Monitoria do Orcamento (FMO)
46 Friends of the Earth US
47 Gatef organizations
48 Gender Action
49 Gestos
50 Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity
51 Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
52 Global Justice Now
53 Global Policy Forum
54 Global Social Justice
55 Good Health Community Programmes
56 Green Advocates International
57 Indian Social Action Forum
58 Indigenous Peoples Global Forum for Sustainable Development, IPGFforSD (International Indigenous Platform)
59 Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
60 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
62 Jamaa REsource Initiatives, Kenya
63 Jubilee Debt Campaign
64 Jubileo Sur /Américas
65 Lumiere Synergie oour le Developpement
66 Madhyam
67 Membre in the Truth and Dignity commission, Tunisia
68 Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
69 Mongolian Women’s Employment Supporting Federation
70 MY World Mexico
71 National Society of Conservationists – Friends of the Earth Hungary
72 NGO Forum on ADB
73 NYC-DSA — New York City Democratic Socialists
74 Oikos – Cooperação e Desenvolvimento
75 Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization Public Union
76 ONG Sustentarse
77 Oyu Tolgoi Watch
78 Passionists International
79 Phenix Center
80 PHM Kenya
81 Public Services International – PSI
82 Reacción Climática
83 Reality of Aid
84 Rede Mocambicana dos Defensores de Direitos Humanos
85 Reseau des Organisations de developpement et Associations de Defense de Droits de l’Homme et de la Democratie(RODADDHD)
86 Rivers without Boundaries Coalition
87 Rural Area Development Programme. RADP
88 Rural Infrastructure and Human Resource Development Organization (RIHRDO)
89 SEATINI Uganda 
90 Servicios Ecumenicos para Reconciliacion y ReconstuccionLancaster
91 Sisters of Charity Federation
92 Social Watch
93 Social Watch Bénin
94 Social Watch Czech Republic
95 Social Watch Initiative Nigeria
96 Society for International Development
97 Third World Network (TWN)
99 Tripla Difesa Onlus Guardie e Sicurezza Sociale ed Eco Zoofila
100 Turkish Social Science Organisation
101 Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development
102 UndebtedWorld Collective, Greece
103 Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
104 urgewald
105 VIVAT International
106 Za zemiata
107 Dr Francine Mestrum
108 Andrea Saltelli, researcher
109 Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University
110 Dr Annina Kaltenbrunner, Leeds University Business School
111 Byju V, researcher
112 Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor University of Essex, UK
113 Enrique Prieto-Rios
114 Eugénia Pires, CoLabor
115 Gabriele Koehler, independent development economist
116 Haroon Akram-Lodhi, Professor of Economics and International Development Studies, Trent University
117 Jeff Powell, Univeristy of Greenwich
118 João Guimarães, researcher
119 Josep Xercavins, academic
120 KK Kailash
121 Kyla Sankey
123 Dr Lorena Lombardozzi, OPEN University
124 M. Chu
125 Maia Seeger
126 Dr Nimi Hoffmann, University of Sussex
127 Oliver Ujah
128 Oscar Ugarteche, Senior Researcher, coordinator of OBELA, observatorio económico latinoamericano
129 Dr Paul Robert Gilbert, University of Sussex
130 Prof. Daniela Gabor, UWE Bristol
131 Shambhu Ghatak, researcher
132 Sara Gert, Sweden
133 SONON Blanche
134 Souley Alarou, researcher
135 Spyros Marchetos, Historian, School of Political Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
136 Sudhir Chella Rajan
137 Susan Engel, Associate Professor, University of Wollongong, Australia
138 Tarron Khemraj
139 Dr Thomas Marois, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
140 Thomas Pallithanam, United States
141 Tomaso Ferrando, Research Professor, University of Antwerp Institute of Development Policy
142 Viktor Chistyakov, Attorney, Russia
143 Zuzana Uhde, social scientist