Draft World Bank policies under consideration at the bank’s meeting on 10-12 October would dangerously roll back protection for communities affected by bank projects, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Saturday.
Foreign ministers and central bankers are meeting in Washington to discuss key challenges in ending poverty and inequality. For human rights groups and community representatives, a critical issue is the World Bank's revision of its safeguard policies, which are intended to protect people and the environment from harm.
The World Bank and its member countries cannot end poverty and promote shared prosperity without protecting the rights of people affected by development investments.
“While it may appear that the World Bank invests in improving human rights around the world, its current policies do not even mention this word,” said Mohamed Abdel Azim of the Egyptian Center for Civil and Legislative Reform.
Abdel Azim point out that “Communities need better protection from the damages these projects can cause.”
This renewed call was also made in July by the Bank on Human Rights Coalition to World Bank President Jim Kim and World Bank member countries to make an explicit commitment to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights in all of the bank’s activities.
“First of all, the World Bank should listen to the advice and expertise of local people – especially women,” said Moon Nay Li of the Kachin Women’s Association, Thailand.
“We want development too – but usually the benefits go somewhere else. The World Bank actually needs to have stronger protections,” he added.
The draft policy includes a highly controversal provision which would allow a government to “opt-out” of applying specific protections for indigenous peoples if it believes requiring the protections would raise ethnic conflict or contravene constitutional law, essentially rendering protections for indigenous peoples optional.
“Indigenous peoples’ recommendations to strengthen World Bank standards and bring them into line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have fallen on deaf ears,” said Joji Carino, Forest Peoples Programme director.
He added that World Bank pledges on ‘no-dilution’ of existing policies are being broken with this proposed opt-out, despite advances made in other substantive areas of the new proposals.”
While the World Bank announced that there would be consultations on the draft policy in locations around the world before the end of 2014, many dates and locations, even for October consultations, have not been published.
Groups are demanding an extension of the consultation period and an expansion of the consultation plans to make the consultations fully accessible for all marginalized groups in borrower countries.
“The World Bank’s first draft of the new environmental and social framework represents a hazard for the entire international development community,” said Mariana Gonzalez Armijo, researcher at Fundar Centro de Análisis e Investigación, an independent organization in Mexico.
She continued: “This shift would encourage countries to accelerate investment without clear rules to protect the environment and human rights.”
The proposed revisions come at a time when more than one billion people without sanitation live on less than US$1.25 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day, World Databank showed.
Meanwhile, the poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.