Are Development Banks doing enough?
In conclusion, if all development banks do now have policies in place that deal with issues related to human rights, in practice, they are still being largely criticised for not taking into account their own policies when financing projects and for too often acting as private banks.
The mechanisms available within the financial institutions are mostly focused on dialogue, and since they do not have adjudicative power, the decisions taken by the different bodies are not legally binding upon the parties.
However, they represent powerful administrative mechanisms that have the advantage of treating complaints relatively quickly. They can also contribute to ensure that procedures are respected and safeguards are in place in the design and execution of projects. In certain cases, they can be instrumental in providing some form of reparation for individuals and communities. Available complaints mechanisms of financial institutions still remain largely unknown to many, including affected people, borrowers and even consultants working for these banks. Awareness raising on the existence of these mechanisms is therefore necessary to ensure that different groups can subsequently make use of bank policies and mechanisms to ensure projects financed by these banks comply with human rights standards. Complaints registered can also be used as a powerful lobby tool.
In some regions, fear of reprisals from oppressive governments and the lacking confidentiality in these mechanisms’, as well as their inability to provide a remedy will prevent affected people from taking advantage of the complaint mechanisms. Although they major shortcomings, a case-by-case evaluation should be undertaken to evaluate potential usefulness of using these mechanisms. Despite the fact that the recommendations resulting from these complaints processes are non-binding, the use of these mechanisms as an advocacy tool may contribute to halt a project or alter its consequences on populations. In parallel, continuous advocacy for human rights norms to be fully integrated by these institutions is needed.
Two new players have appeared on the stage of multilateral development banks, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB). However, the environmental and social policies that they developed are not in line with those of other multilateral development banks, and their recourse mechanisms for those affected by the projects they finance are either lacking or non-existent.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was created in October 2014 with an initial capital of $50 billion. This new multilateral development institution launched on China’s initiative should count at least 21 member States and respond to Asia’s huge financing needs for investments in infrastructure projects. According to the Asian Development Bank, Asia’s investment infrastructure needs could reach $750 billion per year between 2010 and 2020. The main concern regarding the creation of this multilateral development bank is its ability to put in place and implement efficient environmental and social standards, and the U.S. did not hesitate to express its scepticism on this point. Probably for similar reasons, South Korea and Australia did not react to the invitation to join the new financial institution 1 . In September 2015, the AIIB released draft environmental and social safeguards, which are opened for consultation. NGOs are closely monitoring this process and have already formulated criticisms. 2
These environmental and social policies were eventually adopted, and the bank developed a recourse mechanisms for those affected by the projects but its accountability mechanism was criticized for “fall[ing] well below the standards of other such mechanisms in terms of accessibility and transparency.” 3
Similar concerns as to the design of efficient environmental and social policies have been expressed regarding the creation of the New Development Bank (NDB) in July 2015, on the initiative of five emerging countries commonly known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South-Africa). Civil society organisations and social movements are urging the institution to commit to basic principles of sustainable development and respect for human rights. 4 With an initial capital of $50 billion, the new multilateral development bank’s goal is to finance infrastructure and sustainable development projects in these countries, although other states willing to obtain financing will be able to apply. 5 Although the NDB’s Environmental and Social Framework requires clients to establish grievance mechanisms, the bank itself does not have an accountability mechanism to receive complaints concerning NDB-financed projects. 6