The World Bank is reviewing and updating its environmental and social policies “to ensure strong protections for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people for the environment.” This week EarthRights International submitted comments to the World Bank on aspects of its second Draft Environmental and Social Framework that address grievance redress and the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ right to free and prior informed consent (FPIC).  Our recommendations ask the Bank to ensure that affected communities, the intended beneficiaries of this Framework, are active participants in the decisions that impact them.

It is notable that the Draft Framework includes grievance redress as a required component in projects that it funds. However, we are concerned that the current draft of the Framework gives its borrowers too much control over the design and implementation of a project level grievance mechanism. To counter this, our comments recommend a participatory approach, which places communities who are affected by the project in the driver’s seat alongside the Borrower and other affected stakeholders. In our view, for a grievance mechanism to satisfy the interests and needs of its intended users, those individuals must participate in its design and implementation. In fact, making sure that communities steer the grievance redress process is the basis of a pilot project that ERI is working on together with SOMO.

We are similarly concerned that the Draft Framework gives States too much discretion in determining when groups constitute Indigenous Peoples, and provides inadequate guidance on fulfilling the right to FPIC. Positively, the Framework includes a broad definition of Indigenous Peoples and recognizes that FPIC includes an indigenous community’s ability to withhold consent. But, the language used may allow States to come up with their own criteria for recognizing Indigenous Peoples that does not align with the definition accepted under international law, which States could then use to deny recognition of indigenous groups in a discriminatory fashion. This is a concern that we have observed in our own work. In recent decades, for example, the Peruvian state has refused to recognize traditional Andean peoples as indigenous, despite previously classifying them as native.

The Framework’s broad language may also be used to allow a Borrower to claim that it has obtained consent based on a superficial consultation without going through traditional government structures and consulting the affected community.  FPIC is a fundamental right that needs to be respected as it ensures that Indigenous Peoples are active participants in decisions affecting their lives. Our comments thus include suggested changes that limit the State’s discretion and align the Framework with rights guaranteed by international law.

The Bank’s review process has been ongoing since 2012. The comments from this consultation period will be used to guide the drafting of a third draft Framework. We hope that our comments lead to a strengthened Framework that protects the rights of those affected by Bank projects.