By Hana Heineken
Today, CIEL, along with Amnesty International, Bretton Woods Project, and International Accountability Project, submitted a letter to the Vice President and CEO of the IFC, Lars Thunell, urging the IFC to respect and protect human rights.
What is the IFC? The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector lending arm of the World Bank, lends directly, or indirectly by way of financial intermediaries, to businesses in developing countries: in 2010, its investments totaled over 12.5 billion dollars, providing partial financing for over 500 projects worldwide.
Why now? The IFC is currently reviewing its Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability. These Performance Standards are intended to ensure IFC’s corporate clients manage their projects in an environmentally sustainable manner. The IFC Standards reach beyond the IFC itself, having been adopted by the Equator Principles Financial Institutions, export credit agencies, and numerous other institutions. These Standards can have an enormous influence on international investment agreements and the conduct of multinational corporations. Unfortunately, the current draft fails to ensure the human rights of people and communities affected by IFC’s activities are respected and protected by their corporate clients.
Perspectives from the grassroots: CIEL recently organized a Panel that brought human rights experts from the Global South to share with the IFC their concern with the IFC’s Performance Standards. Civil society representatives from Argentina, Cambodia, and Nigeria each shared their experiences with the devastating effects of IFC projects that failed to respect the rights of the affected community. Sao Sotheary from Cambodia shared her frustration with an airport development project that was meant to improve the living standards of ordinary Cambodians, but in fact prevented many from accessing their agricultural lands and sending their children to school. Their presentations showed how it is imperative that the IFC Performance Standards require companies to respect the human rights of those affected by their projects. Yet, the IFC continues to deny the need to expressly incorporate human rights standards into its revised Performance Standards.
The responsibility of corporations to respect human rights was affirmed by John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. Ruggie’s framework of “Protect, Respect and Remedy” has already been accepted by governments and corporations worldwide.
Considering that the mandate of the IFC is to promote sustainable economic development through the private sector, and that investment that violates human rights is not development, it is only natural that human rights be addressed in the Performance Standards. Anything short of that would be ignoring the progress made on advancing human rights globally.