World Bank Safeguard Review

For communities around the world whose lives have become worse, not better, from the World Bank’s more than $52 billion in annual lending, the time to ensure that the Bank’s environmental and social safeguard policies respect human rights was yesterday.

Over three decades ago, the World Bank took the first step among international financial institutions to create environmental and social policies to reduce or avoid the harm caused by its investments. Now, the World Bank is conducting the first comprehensive review of those policies, which will profoundly affect global standards for public sector development finance.

From the outset, CIEL has been a vocal proponent for strong, enforceable standards that ensure compliance with international law, including human rights law. After years of advocacy, the Bank has referenced human rights in the first draft of its safeguard policies, along with language recognizing the right to free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples.

But civil society has serious concerns with the new draft safeguards, which threaten to scale back hard-fought protections for communities and the environment and undo years of progress toward building a strong, effective accountability system at the Bank.

The integration of human rights opens the door to push for stronger, more explicit standards at the World Bank – and ultimately, at other development institutions as well. But an effective safeguards system must begin by recognizing that human rights and environmental protections aren’t a barrier to sustainable development – they are its foundation.