World Bank staff association sounds alarm over Brazil's executive director nominee

The World Bank Group headquarters in Washington. Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

BURLINGTON, Vt. — The World Bank’s staff association on Wednesday called on the institution’s ethics committee to place a hold on Brazil’s executive director nominee to review allegations of racism and other conduct it says has left bank employees “deeply disturbed.”

Abraham Weintraub, Brazil’s former education minister, stepped down from his position last week, announced that he had been nominated to serve as an executive director on the World Bank’s board, and quickly left the country.

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In a letter sent Wednesday to the chair and vice chair of the bank’s ethics committee, the staff association cited Weintraub’s statement accusing China of plotting “world domination,” which prompted Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court to open an investigation on racism charges, his suggestion that Supreme Court judges should be jailed, and his opposition to policies protecting the rights of minorities, promoting racial equality, and supporting Brazil’s “indigenous people” — a term he allegedly “hates.”

The letter called on the ethics committee to put Weintraub’s nomination on hold until the allegations can be reviewed, with a view to “ensuring that Mr. Weintraub is put on notice that the type of behavior for which he is accused is totally unacceptable in this institution.”

It cited efforts at the bank to take “a clear moral stand to eliminate racism in our institution” in response to the global uprising against systemic racism, which has seen protests within blocks of the bank’s Washington headquarters.

“This means a commitment by all staff and Board members alike to call out racism wherever we see it,” the staff association wrote.

Executive directors are appointed by the World Bank’s shareholders, not by its management, and the staff association letter conceded that “the choice of this Executive Director lies with Brazil, and Brazil alone.”

“That said, we can and must ensure that the behavior and actions of our sitting Board members model the Code of Conduct for Board Officials—requiring highest standards of integrity and ethics in their personal and professional conduct—and align with our operational policies, such as our Indigenous Peoples policy,” it reads.

Before his hasty departure to the U.S. — which some allege might have violated travel restrictions — Weintraub was among the most controversial members of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. He is among those under investigation for allegations of political disinformation and quickly stepped down as minister and boarded a flight to Miami after the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing that case to move forward.

On Friday, a long list of Brazilian civil society members sent a letter to ambassadors to Brazil from the other countries included in Brazil’s World Bank constituency, advising against Weintraub’s nomination and informing them of “the potential irreparable harms that he would cause to your country’s standing within the World Bank​.”

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.