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Civil Society Sounds Off on IFC Policies in Istanbul

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On Monday, October 5, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched the first of several civil society consultations regarding the review and update of their Policy and Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability during the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings in Istanbul. These standards govern how communities and the environment are protected during project implementation and stipulate what information is publicly available for IFC-financed projects. The IFC policy's influence extends beyond the organization itself as the Performance Standards formed the basis for the Equator Principles, which currently guide over 70% of project finance in emerging markets. The consultation provided an important platform for civil society to highlight on-going concerns within the IFC's policies and suggest areas where these safeguard policies can be strengthened.

A broad range of views were presented by global civil society at the well attended consultation. Key concerns were raised around the issues of contract transparency, development impact reporting and how the notion of broad community support for IFC projects is determined, among others.

Contract transparency is essential as the Performance Standards currently lack a meaningful requirement of extractive industry contract disclosure between IFC clients and the host governments. As the policy stands, IFC clients must disclose contracts only when the project generates 10% or more of government revenues. Civil society representatives attending the consultation raised the point that none of the extractive industry projects that have been approved since the 2006 advent of the Performance Standards has met this criteria. Civil society has consistently argued that any contract where the government is a party should be transparent and that public interest outweighs the need for contract confidentiality.

The IFC's problematic method of development impact reporting was an issue of concern as well. Currently, the development impacts are not reported on a project-by-project basis, making it difficult to adequately evaluate the benefits from each individual project. One civil society representative pointed out that "the IFC's method of reporting leaves much to be desired; the IFC has the responsibility to evaluate and explain how people's livelihoods and future livelihoods will be affected by each and every project they finance."

Broad community support was another key concern flagged by civil society at the consultation, especially from indigenous peoples representatives. IFC still does not recognize the practice of securing free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from communities for projects with potential significant impacts. IFC is currently relying on the less stringent "Broad Community Support," though it does not report how such community support is achieved. Reporting on how IFC ensures that communities express consent for projects would strengthen accountability by considering communities' opinions when approving risky projects. A Malian representative noted that "community involvement is not merely a matter of providing access to physical documents, but that the IFC must also ensure that information is communicated in a language and manner in which the community can comprehend and use to participate."

The integration of gender into the Performance Standards and climate change were also prevalent issues raised by civil society. A German colleague perhaps summarized the day's session best when he said that "the IFC places all of the burden of environmental and social safeguards on the client...The whole world is re-regulating and you should too."

Co-authored by Rebecca Harris

To learn more about BIC's campaign on the IFC Policies and Standards Review, please visit our website at www.bicusa.org