Private Sector


Financialisation, human rights and the Bretton Woods Institutions: An introduction for civil society organisations

4 April 2024 | Reports

Credit: Essow K / Pexels

Read the report here.

Since the 1980s, the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs) – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – have facilitated the financialisation of the global economy and international development, profoundly impacting the economies of the Global North and South and driving the restructuring of Southern economies to privilege international financial interests. This has made Global South states in particular more vulnerable to speculation in currencies and commodities driven by profit-seeking financial interests, which has both provoked and aggravated debt crises, and resulted in the Bank and Fund pushing for further austerity. Many of the negative impacts of these institutions’ promotion of financialisation are gendered, and disproportionately impact women and girls.

Faced with profound systemic and global crises, the Bank and Fund are doubling down on the highly-financialised practices that have contributed to or at the very least exacerbated the current polycrisis. The World Bank’s Evolution Roadmap envisages a potentially large increase in lending along with a significant increase in de-risking to leverage private sector financing, and the promotion of private sector lending. Meanwhile, the IMF is continuing to impose austerity, while opposing substantive capital controls to curb the effects of currency speculation, dragging its feet on debt relief, and refusing to recognise the pernicious effects of commodity speculation on the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

Recognising the importance of financialisation and hoping to contribute to a wider understanding of it among civil society and social movements, this report examines the role of the BWIs in driving financialisation in the Global South and perpetuating neocolonial global imbalances of wealth and power. It considers how problematic its role has been in terms of economic development, human rights and the right to development, facilitating rampant speculation in currencies and commodities that have had profoundly negative effects on populations around the world, and the reengineering of economies in the interests of international finance and the elites that profit from it in both the Global North and South. The report also explores the human rights impacts of financialisation in various contexts, paying particular attention to its gendered consequences, and includes recommendations for civil society organisations on incorporating a financialisation lens into their advocacy work on the Bank and the Fund. 

This report has been produced as part of BWP’s Financialisation and Human Rights Project. For questions regarding this work, please reach out to Robert Bain at

Read the report here.