World Bank: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) & International Development Association (IDA) | Inspection Panel (IP)

  • Overview

    The World Bank, one of the very first multilateral global financial institutions, was founded to facilitate reconstruction of European nations after the end of World War II. Since its founding in 1944, the bank has grown to include nearly 200 member nations. Its mission has also expanded to address extreme poverty through grants, loans, financing guarantees, and risk insurance to enable governments of developing countries to make capital improvements at concessionary rates and incentivize private sector investments in those countries.

    The mandate of the World Bank Group is poverty alleviation. When people talk about the World Bank, they are usually referring to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Development Association (IDA). These two institutions provide low-interest loans and grants directly to governments and the public sector for specific projects or initiatives to encourage economic growth.

    The current environmental and social policies of the World Bank are known as the “Safeguard Policies,” which govern the addressing of environmental and social issues in project design, implementation and operation, and provide a framework for consultation with communities and for public disclosure. In August 2016, the World Bank adopted a new set of environment and social policies called the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF). As of 1 October, 2018, the ESF applies to all new World Bank investment project financing. With existing projects continuing to apply the Safeguard Policies, the two systems will run in parallel for an estimated seven years.


    World Bank: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) & International Development Association (IDA)

    Created In: 1944

    Headquarters: Washington, D.C., United States

    Member Countries: 189 (IBRD) & 173 (IDA)

    Largest Shareholder: The United States

    Mission: End extreme poverty within a generation and boost shared prosperity.

    The Accountability Office: The Inspection Panel

    Established in: 1993

    Functions: Compliance Review

    Visit the Inspection Panel’s website

    The Accountability Office

    The Inspection Panel assesses allegations of harm to people or the environment and reviews whether the bank followed its policies and procedures.

    The Inspection Panel may only investigate projects financed by the public sector branches of the World Bank Group: IBRD and IDA.

    The Inspection Panel’s mission is to conduct compliance investigations regarding whether the bank complied with its own policies and procedures. It is the only major accountability office that does not also have a dispute resolution function.

    Because the World Bank argues it is immune from being held accountable in courts around the world, the Inspection Panel remains the only formal way for people harmed by the World Bank to hold this institution accountable.

    Since its inception, the panel’s independence has been challenged by those who would prefer that the bank operate with impunity, as it did from its founding after World War II up until 1994. We are working to ensure that the Inspection Panel stays independent, improves its effectiveness, and remains a robust tool for communities to seek accountability for bank operations.

    The panel receives requests for inspection directly from people harmed, or who believe they are likely to be harmed, by World Bank projects or programs. Requests for inspection should describe the harm or expected harm to project-affected people or the environment as a result of the World Bank’s failure to comply with its own policies or procedures.

    Submit a complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel if:

    • You are part of a group of two or more people (or their representative) who live in an area affected by a World Bank-financed project
    • You are part of a group of two or more people (or their representative) who live in an area affected by a World Bank-financed project
    • You’ve been harmed or are likely to be harmed by a project financed by the bank’s public-sector institutions – IBRD or IDA
    • The harm has been or will be caused by the bank’s failure to fully comply with its own operational policies and procedures
    • You have already attempted to resolve the issue with bank management
    • The bank loan is less than 95 percent disbursed

    If your complaint is eligible, the panel will investigate the bank’s compliance and issue a report to the bank’s board. Bank management will respond with an action plan to address any findings in the report of the bank’s non-compliance. In the end, the bank’s board decides what action the bank will take in relation to the project.

    For more information, see our brochure on the Inspection Panel (with SOMO), our Accountability Resource Guide, or visit the Inspection Panel’s website.

  • Our Advocacy

    Advocating for a Strong Accountability System at the World Bank

    Accountability Counsel has been working to ensure that the World Bank’s accountability office, the Inspection Panel, is fully effective. Our work has included advocacy to address structural gaps that impede the full functioning of the Panel as well as advocacy to ensure that the bank appropriately responds to Panel’s work, facilitates remedy for harmed communities, and implements lessons learned for future projects. Despite having to navigate a particularly closed-off and non-transparent process, our advocacy during the review contributed to significant improvements to the transparency and fairness of the complaint process, including:

    • the addition of independent dispute resolution services for World Bank Group public-sector projects;
    • an expanded time frame for communities to file complaints; and
    • increased oversight of the implementation of management action plans to address community concerns.

    Early Advocacy for Needed Improvements to the Panel

    In August 2017, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors initiated a review of the Panel’s “toolkit” for operating under the bank’s newly approved Environmental and Social Framework. In September 2018, Accountability Counsel and partners submitted joint comments to the working group of the bank board’s Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE), which was responsible for the Panel toolkit review. Our comments addressed seven issues flagged by the bank’s notice, including advisory services and monitoring the implementation of management action plans after compliance review investigations.

    Following our submission, the bank’s board approved initial improvements in October 2018, including: (1) a formal recognition of the Panel’s advisory role; (2) a clarification that the Panel may review complaints related to projects financed through Bank-Executed Trust Funds; (3) express permission for the Panel to coordinate with accountability mechanisms of co-financiers to process complaints more effectively and efficiently; and (4) an update to procedures to allow the Panel to share its investigation reports with communities ahead of board consideration. However, these changes did not address a number of key reforms the board was considering. The board opted to further deliberate whether to extend complaint eligibility time limits, create an independent dispute resolution function, and allow the Panel to monitor bank management action plans.

    Calling for Transparency and Public Participation for a Stronger Process

    As the review faced delays, we continued advocating for needed improvements to both the Panel and the review process itself. In a January 2019 statement, Accountability Counsel and 66 partners around the world urged the bank’s board to equip the Panel with the remaining tools necessary to effectively address communities’ complaints and facilitate accountability and remedy for harm caused by World Bank projects. To that regard, the board briefly solicited additional comments on the Panel’s toolkit in May 2019; however, it soon cut off open dialogue and insulated its deliberations from further community input.

    Understanding that a final proposal from CODE was nearing, Accountability Counsel and partners submitted a December 2019 letter to the CODE chairperson to push for public disclosure of CODE’s recommendations before any structural changes were approved. Having received an unsatisfactory response, we renewed our calls for transparency and consultation in a January 2020 letter to the board. In the letter, we noted similar challenges with the contemporaneous accountability review of the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group, and urged the Board to commit to transparency and inclusivity for both review processes.

    Sweeping Changes and the Path Forward

    On March 5, 2020, the board approved a set of sweeping changes to the Panel’s toolkit and the World Bank’s accountability framework, many of which incorporate our recommendations. These changes include the unexpected creation of an entirely new accountability office called the World Bank Accountability Mechanism (AM), which will house the Inspection Panel and a new dispute resolution office called the Dispute Resolution Service (DRS). In creating the AM, the board established a new executive secretary position to oversee the DRS and administrative functions of the Panel. If implemented well, these changes will result in a greater range of tools available to communities seeking justice for harm resulting from World Bank projects.

    The Panel will remain responsible for processing complaints and making determinations on eligibility. To that regard, the board approved extending the time for communities to submit complaints related to projects approved after the new changes take effect. Going forward, the Panel may consider complaints filed up to 15 months after the closing date of the loans financing the projects. Before this change, communities harmed by projects could not submit complaints to the Panel if 95% or more of the project’s funds had been disbursed. Additionally, under limited circumstances, the board may now allow the Panel to verify bank management’s adherence to management action plans that are drafted to address project shortcomings.

    The changes amounted to a watershed moment for World Bank accountability. However, because the AM was created unexpectedly and without robust public consultation, Accountability Counsel is now proactively engaging on the procedures for implementing these changes to ensure that the terms and procedures do not compromise the independence and effectiveness of World Bank accountability.

  • Past Advocacy
  • Documents

    Institutional Documents

    Environmental and Social Framework

    Resolution Establishing the Panel

    1996 Review of the Resolution

    1999 Clarification of the Second Review

    2014 Updated Operating Procedures


    Documents by Release Date

    Jan 2019 – Accountability Counsel, and 66 global partners, submitted a joint statement to World Bank’s Board of Directors, expressing disappointment that three important measures were not approved in the initial review of the Inspection Panel’s toolkit.

    Oct 2018 – The World Bank’s Board of Directors approved some changes to the Inspection Panel’s toolkit.

    Sep 2018 – Accountability Counsel submitted joint comments to the working group of the World Bank Board’s Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE) on the review of the Inspection Panel’s toolkit.

    Apr 2017 – Accountability Counsel sent a joint letter to the World Bank’s Board of Directors, calling for the participation of external stakeholders, including civil society representatives, in the selection process for a new Inspection Panel member.

    Apr 2015 –  Accountability Counsel received a response letter from the World Bank.

    Mar 2015 – Accountability Counsel led 92 organizations in submitting a letter (also available in French and Spanish) to the World Bank President, calling on the Bank to close all policy loopholes and ensure that its safeguards apply to all bank activities. We also demanded that the Bank consult with civil society during its review of relevant policies.

    Aug 2014 – Accountability Counsel, and 20 civil society organizations from around the world, submitted a joint letter to World Bank President Kim and Inspection Panel Chair Eimi Watanabe, requesting suspension of the panel’s “pilot program” that prevents cases from reaching full investigations into social and environmental compliance issues.

    Jan 2014 – Seven highly respected former members of the Inspection Panel, horrified to learn of the proposed changes, took the unprecedented step of sending this joint letter to the panel accusing the current panel members of undermining the panel’s prized independence and effectiveness. The current panel members’ response, dated January 30, 2014, demonstrated their lack of understanding of even the basics of the panel’s need for independence of its secretariat or an interest in its preservation.

    Sep 2011 – Accountability Counsel submitted P4R comments to the World Bank.

    Aug 2010 – Accountability Counsel authored a report, with the support of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), titled “A Call For Reform of World Bank Group Agribusiness Policies and Practice: A Proposal to End Violations of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples’ Rights.

    Accountability Counsel, and 40 civil society organizations from around the world, sent a joint letter to the Inspection Panel, demanding transparency around any changes to the panel’s secretariat and a commitment to cooling off periods to avoid a conflict of interest.

    The President of the World Bank also submitted a response to former panel members, briskly discounting their views, and referencing an external review from 2011 that made a recommendation that supports the former panel members’ argument for more independence within the secretariat. The relevant paragraphs of the external review are here.