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June 7, 2004

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According to a proposed World Bank strategy, future projects in many countries will no longer have to follow the Bank’s safeguard policies, but the national standards of borrowing governments. This would reduce the accountability of the World Bank, weaken the role of the Inspection Panel, and undermine the social and environmental standards applied in Bank projects. The following letter expresses concerns of NGOs in the North and South about the new strategy.

International civil society letter regarding the World Bank's safeguard policies

International Standards for International Projects

Dear Executive Director,

Civil society groups in the South and North are concerned about proposed measures that would weaken the social and environmental standards applied in World Bank projects. The following letter expresses concerns of 186 organizations from 60 countries. A clear majority of the signatories are NGOs from borrowing countries.

Our letter responds to the Bank's proposed new middle income country strategy (MIC strategy), and the pilot project in Mexico that has been submitted to the Board. The MIC strategy proposes that future World Bank projects in many countries rely on national social and environmental standards rather than the Bank's own safeguard policies. The strategy also proposes that in such projects, the role of the Inspection Panel will be linked to national standards rather than the Bank’s safeguard policies. The World Bank argues that these measures would "remove obstacles to timely quality lending". (For a detailed critique of the proposed MIC strategy, see International Rivers Network, The World Bank’s Safeguard Policies Under Pressure, May 2004, available at

Civil society groups express the following concerns regarding the proposed changes:

Compliance with national and World Bank standards: It is self-evident that all World Bank projects should comply with the national standards of borrowing countries. We support a strengthening of national social and environmental standards and capacities. But being an international institution with a development mandate, the World Bank must also comply with its own safeguard policies. Ultimately, we believe that all policies of the World Bank, other international financial institutions and governments should reflect the international environmental and human rights standards that governments - i.e., the members of the World Bank - have established through the framework of the United Nations.

Confusion about applicable standards: The World Bank expects national standards to be 'equivalent' to its own safeguard policies. It is not at all clear what this means in practice. The Bank is currently preparing the Decentralized Infrastructure Reform and Development Project (DIRD project) in the state of Guanajuato/Mexico as a first pilot project for the reliance on national standards. The project would bring about a significant weakening of applicable standards. Its components may cause involuntary resettlement. Yet neither Mexico nor the state of Guanajuato have resettlement laws. The World Bank and the borrower have instead prepared an Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF) that is supposed to reflect the 'spirit of Bank safeguard policies'. What can affected communities do if the DIRD project violates the World Bank's Resettlement Policy (OP 4.12), but not Mexican laws and the ESMF?

Access to information: Several safeguard policies require the World Bank to provide civil society with timely access to important project documents. Examples are Environmental Assessments under OP 4.01, and instruments such as the Resettlement Plans under OP 4.12. It is unclear where civil society could get access to such documents when future projects rely on national standards rather than the Bank's safeguard policies.

Role of the Inspection Panel: In most countries, governments can be legally and politically held accountable for the projects that they implement through the judicial system and through elections. The only mechanism through which affected people can hold the World Bank accountable is the Inspection Panel. The Panel was created to investigate the role of the World Bank, and not governments, in projects that harm local communities. It is questionable whether national governments would indeed allow their actions to be investigated by an international body such as the Inspection Panel. The role of the Panel would be significantly weakened in the proposed Mexico pilot project. For the Panel to remain effective, it must continue to hold the World Bank accountable, and its point of reference must continue to be the World Bank's safeguard policies, not national standards and procedures.

Need for strengthening social and environmental standards: The experience of affected communities, World Bank evaluations and Inspection Panel investigations all document that the World Bank's safeguard policies must be strengthened and more strictly supervised and complied with. This has been confirmed by the report of the Extractive Industries Review. It will also be important to strengthen the role of the Inspection Panel in the follow-up to its investigations. We welcome the recommendations of the EIR, and the measures that private banks and export credit agencies have recently taken to strengthen their own standards. Many of these standards are still inadequate, and are often not implemented in practice. The process of strengthening the social and environmental standards of financial institutions must therefore continue. It is worrying that the World Bank management intends to undermine this trend by shying away from complying with international standards in Bank projects.

Administrative burden: The administrative inconsistencies of the procedures of international financial institutions create an unnecessary cost and burden for borrowing governments. The MIC strategy does not resolve this problem. It proposes that national standards be analyzed and certified regarding their equivalence with World Bank standards. Subjecting national standards to international certification could create additional costs and delays. In the case of the Mexico pilot project, the borrower for example had to prepare, and will need to comply with, a new Environmental and Social Management Framework, in addition to national laws and state regulations. While we support an administrative harmonization of lending procedures, we are opposed to any 'harmonization' process that will weaken social and environmental standards but will not create any real administrative benefits for borrowers.

In conclusion, we support a strengthening of national social and environmental standards and capacities, but will oppose any measures that will weaken the World Bank's safeguard policies, and the accountability of the Bank regarding compliance with these policies. We strongly recommend that the Board of Directors postpone a discussion of the Mexico pilot project until it has had the opportunity to discuss a revised version of the MIC strategy.

The existing safeguard policies have been adopted based on extensive consultation with international civil society. Any proposed changes that affect these policies should therefore be made public for meaningful discussions by civil society before they are presented to the Board of Directors.

Thank you for your attention to these concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Bosshard, International Rivers Network, USA
Gustavo Castro Soto, Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria (CIEPAC), Mexico
Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, India
Manana Kochladze, CEE Bankwatch Network, Georgia
Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh, India
David Ugulor, African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Nigeria

cc. James D. Wolfensohn, President, The World Bank

This letter has been endorsed by the following groups and individuals

Endorsements from national and international NGOs

Jorge Carpio, Foro de Participacion Ciudadana (FOCO), Argentina
Elba Stancich, Taller Ecologista, Argentina

Kate Walsh, AidWatch, Australia
Paul Bourke, Australia Tibet Council, Australia
Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth Australia

Elfriede Schachner, AGEZ - Arbeitsgemeinschaft Entwicklungszusammenarbeit, Austria
Hildegard Wipfel, Koordinierungsstelle der Oesterreichischen Bischofskonferenz fuer internationale Entwicklung und Mission (KOO), Austria

Zakir Kibria, BanglaPraxis, Bangladesh
Arup Rahee, LOKOJ, Bangladesh

Saskia Ozinga, FERN, Belgium

Elisangela Paim, Amigos da Terra, Friends of the Earth Brazil
Marcus Faro de Castro, Rede Brasil sobre Instituicoes Financeiras Multilaterais, Brazil
Alcides Faria, Rios Vivos Coalition, Brazil

Petko Kovatchec, Center for Environmental Information and Education (CEIE), Bulgaria
Anelia Stefanova, Za Zemiata, Bulgaria

Akong Charles Ndika, Global Village Cameroon

Graham Saul, Friends of the Earth Canada
Ian Baird, Global Association for People and Environment, Canada
Michael Bassett, Halifax Initiative, Canada

Juan Pablo Orrego, Alianza Aysén Reserva de Vida, Chile
Jenia Jofre, CODEFF (Comite Nacional pro Defensa de la Folra y Fauna), Chile
Peter Hartmann, Comite Ciudadano por la Defensa de Aisen Reserva de Vida, Chile
Cristian Opaso, Grupo de Accion por el Biobio (GABB), Chile

Yu Xiaogang, Green Watershed, China

Margarita Flórez, Instituto Latinoamericano de Servicios Legales (ILSA), Colombia
Maria Cristina Umbarila, Fundacion Nueva Republica, Colombia
Betsy Mayelis Romaña Blandón, Red Nacional de Mujeres Afrocolombianas Kambirí, Colombia
María Elena Unigarro Coral, Taller Abierto Cali, Colombia

Manuel López & Isaac Rojas, COECOCEIBA - Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica

Klara Sutlovicova, Center for Transport and Energy, Czech Republic
Pavel Pribyl, Hnuti Duha, Czech Republic

Carlos Zorrilla, DECOIN, Ecuador

Ricardo Navarro, CESTA - Friends of the Earth El Salvador

Peep Mardiste, Friends of the Earth Estonia

Tove Selin, Finnish ECA Reform Campaign, Finland

Sébastien Fourmy, Agir ici, France
Sébastien Godinot, Les Amis de la Terre, Friends of the Earth France
Sharon Courtoux, Survie, France
Annie Girard, Réseau Foi & Justice Afrique-Europe, France

Sophiko Akhobadze, Black Sea EcoAcademy, Georgia
Nino Gujaraidze, Green Alternative, Georgia
Keti Dgebuadze, International Information Center of Social Reforms, Georgia
Kakha Nadiradze, World Youth Bank Network Georgia

Dorothy-Grace Guerrero, Asienhaus, Germany
Martin Gueck, KAIROS Europa, Germany
Tsewang Norbu, Tibet Initiative Deutschland, Germany
Knud Voecking, Urgewald, Germany
Carole Werner, World Economy, Ecology and Development (WEED), Germany

Richard Koranteng Twum Barimah, Volta Basin Development Foundation, Ghana

Arni Finsson, Iceland Nature Conservation Association, Iceland

Birsingh Sinku, B.I.R.S.A. Human Rights & Training Center, India
Justin Imam, B.I.R.S.A. Mines Monitoring Center, India
Bina Stanis, Chotanagpur Adivasi Sewa Samiti, India
Roy Laifungbam, CORE (Centre for Organisation Research & Education), India
Ramamurthi Sreedhar, Environics Trust, India
Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group, India
Bulu Imam, INTACH, India
Alok Agarwal, Jan Sangharsh Morcha, India
Sushil Barla, Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee (JMACC), India
Smitu Kothari, Lokayan, India
Ravi Rebbapragada & Xavier Dias, mines,minerals & PEOPLE, India
Medha Patkar & Chittaroopa Palit, Narmada Bachao Andolan, India
Ajita Susan George, Oman Mahila Samiti, India
Sanjai Bhatt, Pairvi, India
A. Latha, River Research Centre, Chalakudy River Protection Council, India
Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, India
Malavika Vartak, South Asia Regional Programme, Habitat International Coalition, India
Shanti Sawaiyan, Women & Mining Network, India

Anggara, Bandung Legal Aid Institute, Indonesia
Binny Buchori, International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), Indonesia
Gita Meidita, NADI - Natural Resource And Development Initiatives, Indonesia

Laura Radiconcini, Amici della Terra, Friends of the Earth Italy
Jaroslava Colajacomo, Reform the World Bank Campaign, Italy

Yoshihito Miyakoshi, A SEED Japan
Ikuko Matsumoto, Friends of the Earth Japan
Yuki Tanabe, JACSES, Japan
Satoru Matsumoto, Mekong Watch, Japan

Kalia Moldogazieva, Tree of Life, Kyrgyz Republic

Alda Ozola, Friends of the Earth Latvia

Saulius Piksrys, Community Atgaja, Lithuania

Ana Golovic, Ecosens, Macedonia

Wong Meng Chuo, IDEAL (Institute for Development of Alternative Living), Malaysia

Julian Manduca, Moviment ghall-Ambjent, Friends of the Earth Malta

Arturo Morales Tirado, Sociedad Audubon de México, Guanajuato, México
Jose Manuel Arias Rodriguez, Asociación Ecologica Santo Tomás A.C., Mexico
Susana Cruickshank, Equipo Pueblo, Mexico
Rodolfo Chavez Galindo, Frente por los Derechos Economicos Socio-Ambientales y Culturales de los Pueblos, Mexico
Fernando Melo, Trasparencia Sociedad Civil, Mexico

Anabela Lemos, Justiça Ambiental, Moçambique
Daniel Ribeiro, Livaningo, Moçambique

Bertchen Kohrs, Earthlife Namibia

Prabin Man Singh, Arun Concerned Group, Nepal
Bed Prakash Bhattarai, Kali Gandaki A Affected Concerned Committee, Nepal
Arun Kumar Shrestha, National Concerns Society, Nepal
Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ), Nepal
Arjun Dhakal, Nepal Network for Sustaininable Development (NNSD), Nepal
Roy Laifungbam, South Asian Solidarity for Rivers and Peoples (SARP), Nepal
Gopal Siwakoti 'Chintan', Water and Energy Users' Federation-Nepal (WAFED), Nepal

Filka Sekulova, A SEED Europe, Netherlands
Johan Frijns, BankTrack, Netherlands
Henneke Brink, Both Ends, Netherlands
Ricardo Navarro & Janneke Bruil, Friends of the Earth International, Netherlands
Donald Pols, Friends of the Earth Netherlands

Gordon Abiama, Africa Centre for Geoclassical Economics, Nigeria
George-Hill Anthony, Commonwealth of Niger Delta Youths, Nigeria
Uche Igwe, Community Level Environmental Action Network (CLEAN Nigeria), Nigeria
Aliyu Noma Usman, Dam Communities Coalition, Nigeria
Bassey Ekpenyong, Initiative Development Network (IDN), Nigeria,
Akpan Anthony Johnson, Pan African Vision for the Environment (PAVE), Nigeria
Chibuzo Ekwekwuo, Public & Private Rights Watch, Nigeria
Mimidoo Achakpa, womens right to education programme education programme, Nigeria

Tonje Folkestad, FIVAS (Association for International Water and Forest Studies), Norway

Muhammad Nauman, Creed Alliance, Pakistan
Sarah Siddiqi, Karachi Administration Women Welfare Society (KAWWS), Pakistan

Damien Ase, Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights/Friends of the Earth, Papua New Guinea

Jorge Urusoff, Coordinadora de Barrios Afectados por la Entidad Binacional Yacyretá, Paraguay
Elías Díaz Peña, Sobrevivencia, Friends of the Earth Paraguay

Carlos Abanto, Asociacion Civil Labor - Amigos de la Tierra Peru
Nilton Deza, Ecovida, Peru

Joan Carling, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Philippines
Lidy B. Nacpil, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Philippines
Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan-People's Network for the Environment, Philippines
Leonor Briones, Social Watch Philippines
Joji Carino, Tebtebba Foundation, Philippines/United Kingdom

Andrzej Gula, Institute for Environmental Tax Reform, Poland
Robert Cyglicki, Polish Green Net, Poland
Piotr Dynowski, Polish-Tibetan Friendship Association, Poland

Renato Roldao, EURONATURA - Centre for Environmental Law and Sustainable Development, Portugal

Aboubacry Mbodj, Co-ordination for Senegal River Basin (CODESEN), Senegal
Demba Moussa Dembele, Forum for African Alternatives, Senegal
Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (RADDHO), Senegal

Peter Mihok, Center for Environmental Public Advocacy (CEPA), Slovak Republic

Liane Greeff, Environmental Monitoring Group, South Africa
Philip Owen, Geasphere, South Africa
Gillian Addison, groundwork, South Africa

Rosa Sala, Intermon Oxfam, Spain

Hemantha Withanage, Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Working Group on Trade and IFIs, Sri Lanka

Penny Davies, Diakonia, Sweden
Göran Ek, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Sweden

Christine Eberlein, Berne Declaration, Switzerland
Sonja Ribi, Pro Natura - Friends of the Earth Switzerland
Peter Niggli, Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations, Switzerland
Caroline Morel, Swissaid, Switzerland

Benedict Chacha Peter, Foundation HELP, Tanzania

Prasittiporn Kan-onsri (Noi), Community University, Assembly of the Poor, Thailand
Chana Maung & Carol Ransley, EarthRights International (Southeast Asia), Thailand
Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South, Thailand/India
Chainarong Sretthachau, Southeast Asia Rivers, Thailand

Sena Adessou, Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement, Togo

Frank Muramuzi, National Association of Professional Environmentalists, Uganda
O.C Afunaduula, Save Bujagali Crusade, Uganda
Francis Kidega, Uganda Youth Network, Uganda

Hannah Ellis, Friends of the Earth England, Wales & Northern Ireland
Najib Afsar, Anti Mangla Dam Extension Action Committee, United Kingdom/Jammu Kashmir
Jeff Powell, Bretton Woods Project, United Kingdom
Nicholas Hildyard, Corner House, United Kingdom
Marcus Colchester, Forest Peoples Programme, United Kingdom
Geoff Nettleton, Indigenous Peoples Links, United Kingdom
Richard Harkinson, Minewatch, United Kingdom
Clare Joy, World Development Movement, United Kingdom

Rick Rowden, ActionAid USA
Bruce Jenkins, Bank Information Center, USA
Beverly Bell, Center for Economic Justice, USA
Nancy Alexander, Citizens' Network on Essential Services, USA
Stephen Hellinger, The Development GAP, USA
Payal Sampat, Earthworks/Mineral Policy Center, USA
Bruce Rich, Environmental Defense, USA
Jon Sohn, Friends of the Earth USA
Paula Palmer, Global Response, USA
Douglas Norlen, Pacific Environment, USA
Wenonah Hauter, Public Citizen, USA
Michael Brune, Rainforest Action Network, USA
Douglas Hellinger, Structural Adjustment Participatory Review International Network (SAPRIN), USA
Lhadon Thetong, Students for a Free Tibet, USA
Daphne Wysham, Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, USA
Robert Jacobs, Tibet Committee of Fairbanks, USA
Tashi Tsering, Tibet Justice Center, USA
Sonam Wangdu, U.S. Tibet Committee, USA
Mark Dubois, WorldWise, USA

Individual endorsements
Jeannie Martin, University of Western Sydney, Australia
Geraldo Browne Ribeiro Filho, Brazil
Prof. Jan Andersson, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany
Susan George, Author and Associate Director, Transnational Institute, France
Heidi Hawkins, University of Cape Town, South Africa
John Riggs, South Africa
Prof. Angana Chatterji, California Institute of Integral Studies, USA
Prof. Jonathan Fox, University of California, USA
Arif Gamal, USA/Sudan
Rafael Friedmann, USA

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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