The World Bank's private-sector finance unit supported development projects in numerous countries that involved grave violations of human rights, anti-poverty group Oxfam alleged in a new report Thursday.
Oxfam said the World Bank's International Finance Corporation has increasingly channelled its funds through other financial institutions, like local banks and private-equity funds, sacrificing close oversight of projects that have a harmful impact on impoverished populations.
The IFC "has little accountability for billions of dollars' worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world," Oxfam said.
Citing its own research as well as reports by the World Bank's internal watchdog, Oxfam said that the IFC has taken a "hands off" strategy to pumping $36 billion into poor countries via other private-sector financial intermediaries over the past four years.
- Risky loan model -
But Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington office, said that the IFC does not know where much of its money under the new lending model goes and how it really impacts people in the field.
"We describe some shocking abuses in projects originally born of IFC investments to third parties across Asia, Africa and Latin America, including deaths, repression, landgrabs and violence," Mombrial said.
"Because public information from the IFC is so meager –- whether by design or ignorance –- we fear such projects are just the tip of the iceberg."
In one example documented by Oxfam and allied non-governmental organizations, IFC money went to a Vietnamese company, Hoang Anh Gia Lai, that took land and community forests from peasants in Cambodia's Ratanakiri district to use for plantations and polluted local water resources.
The IFC backed the company by its $27 million investment in Vietnam-based investment group Dragon Capital Group, which in turn funded Hoang Anh Gia Lai.
In another case, the IFC provided $30 million in loans and equity to a company which finances infrastructure projects in Latin America, the Corporacion Interamericana para el Financiamiento de Infraestructura.
CIFI then financed a dam project in Guatemala of Spanish-controlled Hidro Santa Cruz which sparked strong opposition from local residents, escalating into violent confrontations, government mistreatment and ultimately, in 2012, an official state of emergency in the region.
Oxfam said it agreed that funding for the private sector by the IFC was important for development. But the IFC use of intermediaries was giving up the World Bank's key role of establishing social and environmental safeguards in projects.
"Even more worrying, because the IFC is increasing its exposure in fragile states by 50 percent, is the potential for calamitous results if done under this risky new model in its current form," Oxfam said.
In response, the IFC said via a spokesperson that it was reviewing Oxfam's allegations and the specific cases cited and "take its findings very seriously."
It said it remains committed to working through financial intermediaries "to reach more entrepreneurs and small businesses than we can on our own, to reach the 2.5 billion people and 200 million businesses that don't have access to finance."
However, it said, "We know that we can always do better. These cases show we must continually improve our approach to supervision."