2015 – 2017 OPIC Environmental and Social Policy Statement Review

Accountability Counsel was actively involved with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s (OPIC) Environmental and Social Policy Statement (ESPS) review even before it officially began.

In response to our complaint filed to OPIC about its role in the failed biomass project in Liberia, OPIC’s Office of Accountability (OA) conducted an independent investigation and released a report about the agency’s role in the project in addition to a short response from OPIC’s president and CEO, Elizabeth Littlefield.  Both the report and President Littlefield’s response included important recommendations to prevent future harm, including a review of OPIC’s ESPS. In March 2015, OPIC released a report to Congress in which it formally committed to reviewing its ESPS.

As we highlighted in our scorecard report Scoring OPIC One Year On: Few Lessons Learned in OPIC’s Response to Disastrous Project in Liberia, analyzing OPIC’s inadequate response to the OA report on Liberia, OPIC finally initiated the ESPS review in December 2015.

Based on our experience with the failed biomass project in Liberia, as well as our experience supporting communities in Mexico, we took the lead on a joint submission that we and our partners sent to OPIC on 28 March, 2016. As an overview, we recommended that OPIC revise its ESPS and its associated procedures manual to include:

  1. Clear, robust criteria and processes for human rights due diligence
  2. Effective assessment of the cumulative environmental and social impacts of related projects
  3. A clear requirement to collect baseline environmental and socio-economic data for all potentially vulnerable groups prior to the start of operations
  4. Protections for vulnerable parties contracting with OPIC clients
  5. Recognition of the elevated risks of post-conflict environments
  6. Enhanced monitoring procedures, especially for high-risk projects
  7. Improved assessment and monitoring of development outcomes
  8. Enhanced community consultation and engagement
  9. Support for OPIC’s Office of Accountability
  10. A requirement to publish all relevant policies, procedures, sectoral guidance, and project related information.

Accountability Counsel also signed onto a joint statement released 12 February, 2016 and participated in the 9 December, 2015 and 11 April, 2016 OPIC ESPS stakeholder consultations to provide input and views on the review process.

On 23 September, 2016, OPIC released a draft of the revised ESPS. The draft was open for public comment for a 60-day period.

OPIC’s draft revised ESPS can be found here.

The red line version of OPIC’s draft ESPS can be found here.

On 23 November, 2016, Accountability Counsel and several partners submitted a joint submission of comments on the draft ESPS. Considering the recommended revisions from the previous joint submission, this submission highlighted continuing gaps in the draft ESPS. While OPIC demonstrated a greater commitment to human rights in the draft ESPS, the policy still needed significant improvements, particularly in the areas of developing robust human rights due diligence procedures, assessing and monitoring development outcomes, improving monitoring procedures, and facilitating access to meaningful accountability and remedy. Without these improvements, communities remain vulnerable to human rights and environmental abuses, and OPIC continues to run the risk that projects it funds do not fulfill their development goals.

OPIC released the final ESPS on 18 January, 2017. An analysis of the final ESPS, based on the recommendations in our submissions, can be found here. Accountability Counsel will continue to engage in advocacy to ensure that OPIC delivers on its development mandate and manages social, environmental, and human rights risks through effective due diligence and accountability.