New World Bank standards fail to impress rights, green groups

A coal mine in Mongolia. The World Bank last year acknowledged its projects sometimes resulted in forced population displacements. Human Rights Watch said the new rules do "not require the bank to respect human rights".
A coal mine in Mongolia. The World Bank last year acknowledged its projects sometimes resulted in forced population displacements. Human Rights Watch said the new rules do "not require the bank to respect human rights".PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Aim is to prevent projects from harming people, environment

WASHINGTON • The World Bank yesterday adopted a new set of policies aimed at preventing its projects from harming people and the environment.

The global lender dedicated to fighting poverty - whose commitments rose to more than US$60 billion (S$80 million) this year - said the new environmental and social framework had involved the "most extensive consultation ever conducted" by the bank.

"These new safeguards will build into our projects updated and improved protections for the most vulnerable people in the world and our environment," World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said.

World Bank projects in regions worldwide have been accused of underwriting human rights abuses. The bank last year acknowledged its projects sometimes resulted in forced population displacements.

The new rules are to take effect in 2018 and will require client states to conduct a "broadened social assessment and management of environmental and social risks", to guarantee labour rights and prohibit any form of forced labour. Also, projects must reduce environmental harm and avoid large-scale population displacements.

Ms Nadia Daar, head of Oxfam International's Washington office, said her organisation was "frustrated and disappointed" that the new policy had not gone further.

The Bank Information Centre, a group which lobbies to improve World Bank policies, said the new rules lacked "the strength and clarity that people negatively impacted by development so profoundly depend upon".

Human Rights Watch said the new rules do "not require the bank to respect human rights".

And Ms Stephanie Fried, executive director of the Ulu Foundation, a non-profit group focused on forest preservation, said: "The bank has effectively dismantled 30 years of environmental and social protections for the world's most impoverished and vulnerable peoples."

World Bank chief Dr Kim said the framework represented "the best possible compromise", adding: "We had to find a path down the middle where we can both ensure that abuses didn't happen and... make it possible for borrowers to borrow."

Overly strict criteria risked harming the economic prospects of poor countries, he said.

Mr Kim also told reporters on a conference call that one key example of the changes will be increased protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The bank pulled out of a US$90 million loan to Uganda's health system in 2014 after the government passed a law that imposed life sentences for certain homosexual activities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'New World Bank standards fail to impress rights, green groups'. Print Edition | Subscribe