21 December 2023

A New Year’s Resolution for the World Bank Evolution: The Work Ahead for Remedy in 2024

It is near the end of the year (for those following the Gregorian calendar), so now seems as good a time as any to reflect on our continued push for the world’s largest development bank, turned aspiring champion of climate finance and now host of the Loss and Damage climate reparations fund, to finally, finally, finally deliver effective remedy when its projects cause real harm to people. This is also the time to rest up for the road ahead in 2024.

New Year, Not-So-New Me (Just More of Me): The World Bank Group’s Proposed Evolution

The World Bank Group (WBG) began this year proposing a roadmap to evolve its mission, operations and resources to confront a “crisis in development” presented by climate change, lack of pandemic readiness, and growing economic instability, among other things. Notably absent from its evolution roadmap was a response to, let alone recognition of, longstanding calls for the bank to reform its development model to address systemic problems contributing to its own crisis of impunity.

Our chief concern with the evolution roadmap was that the bank intended to rapidly scale its reach, albeit in support of climate projects, but with no real plan to address existing gaps hindering effective remedy for adverse human rights impacts risked by moving fast and at scale. We therefore presented the WBG with a widely endorsed Evolution to Accountability Roadmap to help it succeed in achieving just, inclusive, and resilient development impacts in this new era of climate finance.

Discourse on the Course of Action

In October 2023, we attended the WBG Annual Meetings, to amplify our calls for the bank to improve its accountability for environmental and social impacts and to deliver effective remedy for communities harmed by the projects and programs the bank supports. A crucial anchor to the meetings is the Civil Society Policy Forum, a platform intended to convene diverse stakeholders to discuss issues that profoundly affect communities impacted by WBG lending activities. This year, we sponsored two sessions highlighting the need for improved accountability and transparency to govern the WBG’s evolution and to build trusting, sustainable relationships with communities.

The first session grounded the recommendations from our Evolution to Accountability Roadmap in the actual experiences of those who sought redress through the WBG’s independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs) in recent years. Panelists Ramanie Kunanayagam, representing the World Bank Inspection Panel, and Janine Ferretti, representing the Compliance Advisor Ombudsperson (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) reflected on lessons from IAM cases that should guide the bank’s evolutions. Transparency was a central theme of the conversation, as civil society and community participants conveyed that more must be done to promote IAMs not only to external stakeholders, but also internally amongst bank staff to encourage earnest engagement on remedy.

The second session, primarily coordinated by Arab Watch Coalition, delved into the potential reasons for a disproportionately low use of IAMs by communities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The discussion considered the unique challenges and opportunities in the region, reconciling the lack of successful complaints with the experiences of individuals from affected communities in Egypt and Lebanon who were denied opportunities for safe dialogue and effective remedy for harm through IAM processes. Each panelist offered a unique perspective on the formidable barriers communities face when raising serious human rights issues to the WBG. Lama Almoayed, a Research Associate at Accountability Counsel, shared findings from the 2022 Our Last and Only Resort report as well as data from the Accountability Console, painting a landscape of accountability in the MENA that should worry the Bank and its supporters. To address accountability barriers in the region, WBG must ensure meaningful consultation, full disclosure and due diligence in its projects, and it must commit to providing remedy for harms identified by its IAM processes.

The Work on the Horizon

The WBG Annual meetings culminated in the official endorsement of the WBG’s new mission to “to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity on a livable planet by strengthening inclusion, resilience, and sustainability.” Most of the WBG-led discussions during the meetings seemed like efforts to sensitize people to proposed ways of streamlining environmental and social due diligence and distilling development impact performance metrics under a new Corporate Scorecard. We heard far too little in response to our legitimate concerns about the risks of offloading fiduciary standards without improving accountability to communities directly impacted by scaled activities under a climate finance agenda.

Since the Annual meetings, the WBG has been exposed for its efforts to contain the findings of an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse within a for-profit education scheme backed by the IFC, and its response to those damning findings have been woefully inadequate. The IFC has also recently settled a lawsuit for financing a notorious palm oil company’s violent land-grabbing campaign in Honduras, which is the first time it has acceded its own impunity to legal liability in the United States.

These developments should instruct how the WBG should proceed in 2024, especially as it tees up a review of its public sector accountability mechanism, finalizes the IFC’s remedial action framework and responsible exit principles, takes over management of the Loss and Damage Fund, and requests its largest ever capital increase for lending through the International Development Association. We are resolute in our hope for WBG to turn over a new leaf in the new year, and we will continue to push for improved accountability and effective remedy to help the WBG deliver a just transition for a sustainable world. In the meantime, get some rest.