World Bank Considers Consolidating Safeguard Policies

Will your tax dollars be contributing to the demise of the world's indigenous communities?  Get Informed!

On Monday, July 11, 2011, the Indian Law Resource Center sent a letter to World Bank President Robert Zoellick criticizing the World Bank’s safeguard policy update and consolidation process because it is likely to lead to weak policies that encourage serious and widespread human rights violations, especially against indigenous communities.  Safeguard policies are rules that prevent the World Bank from funding projects that can harm people and the environment.

Why should U.S. taxpayers be concerned?

The United States is a key player at the World Bank.  In 2010 alone, the United States contributed more than $2.7 billion to the World Bank.  According to Armstrong Wiggins, Director of the Indian Law Resource Center's Washington, D.C. office, “if the World Bank adopts weak policies, U.S. taxpayer dollars may be used to fund projects that violate the human rights of indigenous communities throughout the world.  Communities would suffer.  Some would probably even disappear.”

The World Bank is an international lender that provides development loans and grants to developing countries in order to end global poverty.  The World Bank has enormous reach – it currently funds activities in 16,520 locations in the world, with loans totaling more than $70 billion each year.  A growing segment of the World Bank is focused on funding conservation measures to prevent climate change.  The idea behind REDD+ (reducing emissions from forest degradation and deforestation) is that developed countries, like the United States, will pay developing countries in tropical regions to keep their forest standing.  Unfortunately, REDD+ programs are starting to wreak havoc on indigenous communities.  In Indonesia and Ecuador, indigenous peoples’ groups have already demanded a halt to REDD+ projects because they see the potential for governments to forcibly evict indigenous communities from their lands in the name of conservation.  If the World Bank adopts weak safeguard policies, this lawlessness will escalate, and it will be partially funded by U.S. taxpayers.

Since 1982, the World Bank has recognized that development projects can harm or even destroy indigenous communities unless lenders adopt safeguard policies specifically addressing indigenous communities.  Instead of continuing to recognize that indigenous communities should receive special protections, the World Bank is attempting to ignore nearly 30 years of policy development by grouping indigenous peoples into a general policy covering all vulnerable people.

What can be done?

The Indian Law Resource Center urges the World Bank to do better.  Maintaining strong safeguard policies are important, not only for indigenous peoples, but to protect the assets of the World Bank from risky investments.  The Indigenous Peoples safeguard policy should remain a stand-alone policy.  It should be strengthened by incorporating current international law standards, like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The World Bank should also adopt a stand-alone human rights safeguard policy that includes labor rights.  Indigenous peoples should have the opportunity to fully and effectively participate in the process of updating the World Bank safeguard policies.  Finally, the World Bank should proceed on REDD+ funding only where it has adopted strong safeguards that fully recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

How can I get involved?

In the next few months, we expect the World Bank to begin consulting with the world community on its safeguard policy update process.  Your voice is important!  Please check back for updates on the process.  Sign up for our newsletter, the Indigenous Notes, and we will contact you with information on how to participate in the global consultations.