How is the World Bank's newest safeguards document different from the initial draft?

A resettlement village in Nakai Plateau, Laos. The World Bank's second draft of proposed social and environmental safeguards will "will vastly weaken protections for affected communities," according to human rights groups. Photo by: Stanislas Fradelizi / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank has publicly released the second draft of the proposed social and environmental safeguards following an extensive public consultation phase with shareholders and stakeholders that began last year with the release of the first draft.

“This revised draft is the result of a robust — in fact, an unprecedented — consultation with World Bank shareholders and stakeholders,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank vice president for operational policy and country services. “The level of engagement and the caliber of feedback has been excellent, which shows in the revised draft.”

The new version differs from the first draft in a number of ways, according to a World Bank news release.

An “‘alternative approach’ clause for the applicability of the draft indigenous peoples’ standard” was deleted. A provision known as Free, Prior, Informed Consent was bolstered by requiring the World Bank to document consent of indigenous peoples before proceeding with “the aspects of the project relevant to Indigenous Peoples.”

A labor standard was expanded to include the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining and now includes increased coverage for contractors, primary supply workers and community labor workers.

On the theme of biodiversity, the concept of ecosystems was introduced and the draft language now specifies that offsets — what the World Bank refers to as “actions to compensate for unavoidable biodiversity impacts associated with economic development” — should be considered only as a last resort and in some cases should be prohibited.

On the topic of land and involuntary resettlement, the draft “proposes to add an annex with detailed resettlement planning requirements, including for the production of baseline studies, and clarifies that compensation must always be paid before displacement.” The draft also “treats resettlement as a development opportunity, including benefit sharing for project-affected people.” In addition, “a requirement to assess risks and impacts caused by land titling activities has been added.”

And lastly, “the proposed framework emphasizes that the Bank shares the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and helps its clients to fulfill those aspirations.”

“We think that overall the proposed framework presents an updated risk- and impact-based approach to protecting the environment and people,” Stefan Koeberle, World Bank director of operations risk and head of the safeguards review told reporters Tuesday. “We think that it bases a strong emphasis on risk management and choosing sustainable development outcomes over the life of the project.”

But the contents of the new draft have been met with sharp criticism from a group of 19 environmental and human rights groups, including Oxfam International, Human Rights Watch and Bank Information Center.

According to a news release from the 19 organizations, the new safeguards draft “will vastly weaken protections for affected communities and the environment at the same time as the bank intends to finance more high-risk projects,” and, they said, the framework “calls into question the extent to which the bank has responded to public input.”

The environmental and human rights groups said the draft neglects to cover “substantial sections of the World Bank’s portfolio including rapidly disbursing policy-based lending for environmentally and socially sensitive sectors” and “failed to make public a detailed budget for the implementation of its proposed plan.”

The organizations recognized some improvements from the first draft of the safeguards, but emphasized that “the draft does not consistently ensure, throughout all standards, that unique impacts of projects on each disadvantaged or vulnerable group are differentiated to prevent harm to these groups and leaves some key groups out, including those discriminated against on the basis of political or other opinion and language.”

A third phase of consultations is now set to begin, with formal consultations in countries expected to start in September, according to Koeberle.

This third review phase will “focus on implementing the framework … and on issues that require further discussions,” Koeberle said. These issues include human rights, indigenous peoples, and climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.