by Rhodri C. Williams
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the World Bank’s rollout of a draft set of reworked safeguard policies took little note of a critical petition initiated last month by Inclusive Development International. However, even as the Bank announced a consultation period scheduled to run through the end of November, IDI elaborated on its concerns in a comment in Devex.
Without having yet had time to read through the Bank’s draft, it is difficult not to be concerned by the fundamental nature of the regression indicated by IDI’s criticisms. Elimination of the requirement to prepare advance resettlement plans, removal of substantive monitoring rules, the right to opt out of indigenous peoples safeguards, and an approach so flexible that the World Bank Inspection Panel “would have no hard rules against which to hold the World Bank accountable.” As Nezir Sinani notes in Huffington, the opt-out provision alone could undo a real – but fragile – sea change in the recognition of indigenous rights in parts of Africa.
Its hard to imagine what progressive innovations could offset the negative effects of all the above, but the Bank’s plug for the new draft is both disarmingly bullish and alarmingly bland, checking off all the catchphrases without giving any meaningful indications of the actual changes involved:
Through the revision of our environmental and social safeguard policies, the World Bank is ramping up its standards to ensure the delivery of an environmental and social framework which is more efficient and comprehensive; includes a strengthened approach to the management of environmental and social risks that will support sustainable development through standards that are clear to those impacted by the projects we finance, those who implement, and those holding us to account.
It is no secret that the Bank’s public statements tend to run more progressive than its practice, and that there are real dilemmas that the Bank faces in trying to live up to its own standards. But to gut the standards while claiming to strengthen them would not only be wrong, but downright Orwellian.