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Getting to Yes on the Next Generation of Safeguards

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In July 2012, the World Bank embarked on a review and update of its policies to protect people and the environment in the projects it finances.  There is no question that a strong Environmental and Social Framework is essential to achieving the World Bank’s goals of reducing poverty and building shared prosperity.  It is also fair to say there are strong opinions about how best to craft these policies.
The scope of this consultation was unprecedented.  This was the most extensive consultation the World Bank has ever had.  In the first two (out of three) phases, we consulted in 65 countries, including 54 borrower countries; held 8 dedicated Indigenous Peoples consultations and 5 topical expert consultations (labor, biodiversity, non-discrimination, LGBT/SOGIE; cultural heritage); and had consultations and workshops with development partners, including other Multilateral Development Banks, the International Labor Organization, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, and the World Health Organization.
As the 2015 Spring Meetings wrap up here in Washington, DC, I thought it would be useful to take stock of where things stand on the safeguards review, and provide some insight on what we are trying to achieve and the feedback we’ve heard.   
It is worth touching on why the Bank is undertaking this review.  Simply put, it’s a different world.  Over the last two decades, the issues our clients face have changed dramatically, and their ability to manage them – as well as the Bank’s – has significantly increased.   The safeguards review is taking place against the backdrop of a larger effort to modernize the Bank.  As the Bank reforms to be more operationally efficient, this change process will naturally influence the safeguards review as we seek to improve and streamline our work.
In addition, international best practice on environmental and social protections has evolved.  When our safeguards policies were first drafted more than 20 years ago, they were the gold standard.  It is now our turn to catch up.  And that is exactly what we intend to do.
We will have “leading edge” environmental and social standards that are clear, stronger than our current safeguards, and that support our goals of ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity.  Our next generation of environmental and social protections will add strong new principles of non-discrimination, including children, disability, gender, age, and SOGIE, and it will add detailed labor provisions to protect workers, including grievance mechanisms, non-discrimination, occupational health and safety, and prohibiting child and forced labor. 
Going forward, we will broaden the range of biodiversity concerns and add sustainable use of living natural resources (e.g., fisheries and forests), and we will add climate change considerations including greenhouse gas estimation and reduction and climate resilience.  Assessments of social and environmental risk will be strengthened, ensuring resources are especially targeted to high risk projects. Finally, we will add Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) for Indigenous Peoples, and require increased and ongoing stakeholder engagement.
I won’t pretend that this is simple.  It is not.  There is agreement on some points and widely divergent views on others.  This was underscored last Friday in a Civil Society Forum session on the safeguards review, which drew about 100 CSO representatives from both developing and developed countries.   

The session included a constructive exchange on how best to address issues ranging from labor and indigenous peoples to risk assessment and disability. 
Vicky Tauli-Corpuz 
The reality is that many stakeholders differ on the treatment of several key provisions in the draft proposal.  To take just a few examples, some see the “alternative approach” language on Indigenous Peoples (IP) as undermining our current operational policy, while others are concerned that IP language without an alternative approach would violate their constitutions and risk inciting or exacerbating civil strife.  Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, conveyed the perspective of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the complexity of addressing this issue with governments.
Borrowers are advocating for the use of their own frameworks with capacity building support from the Bank, while some donors and CSOs prefer for the Bank’s framework to be the default, citing concerns over oversight and implementation.  David McCauley, Senior Vice President for Policy and Government Affairs at the World Wildlife Fund reinforced this sentiment while also asserting it would be a missed opportunity if the Environmental and Social Framework did not identify a pathway for using borrower systems.
On labor, there is generally consistent feedback that the draft language should expand the scope of coverage.   Peter Bakvis, the Director of the International Trade Union Confederation’s Washington office, expressed cautious optimism about how labor might be treated in the second draft, but noted that he would reserve judgment until seeing the revised text.  Fair enough. 

Mohammed Loutfy from the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union praised the Bank’s engagement on disability issues, in particular the recent hiring of a new disability adviser, while noting some glitches in the consultaton process for persons with disabilities. He also encouraged the Bank to consider standards on universal access and inclusion.
Safeguards session at 2015 Spring Meetings
The stellar participation we’ve had from our shareholders, stakeholders in civil society and beyond, and our development partners, has enriched the process.  The end result will be better for it.  
I am confident that we are collectively moving in the right direction.  Our environmental and social protections, which are already at a high standard, will move from strong to stronger. 
We expect the proposal to change in key areas, and we are looking forward to continuing this lively conversation after the Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE), a subcommittee of the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors, has reviewed the next draft.

Next Steps

  • The review of the World Bank’s safeguard policies includes three consultation periods. Two rounds of consultations have been completed (Phase 2 closed on March 1, 2015).
  • The World Bank is reviewing in detail the feedback we received and revising the draft framework.
  • The World Bank will initiate the third consultation phase when we have permission from CODE to disclose the framework for consultation. Consultation materials will include all materials presented to CODE.
For more information:


Stefan Koeberle

Director for Strategy, Risk and Results, World Bank Group

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