Rights at risk: a race to the bottom in social and environmental safeguard policies of multilateral development banks?

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 17 February 2015


Seminar Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building #8, ANU
ANU Canberra


Mac Darrow


Dr Emma Larking
+61 (0)2 6125 1513

Human rights violations have been reported with disturbing frequency in connection with the investment lending activities of multilateral development banks (MDBs), including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and development banks in other regions. A series of highly critical reports from MDBs' accountability mechanisms have highlighted a challenging set of internal incentive and organisational culture problems.The criticisms and causes are not new: beginning in the 1970s, triggered by large dam disasters, MDBs began to put in place environmental and social safeguard policies to help anticipate, prevent and as needed mitigate and redress adverse impacts of investment lending activities. However the aid landscape is rapidly changing, newer players (including commercial banks and development banks in the BRICS countries) are emerging, and strong safeguard policies and accountability mechanisms are sometimes seen as a competitive disadvantage.At the same time, calls for MDBs to recognise their obligations under international human rights law and integrate human rights protections within their safeguard policies have largely gone unheeded. The World Bank is entering the final phase of public consultation on its own revised social and environmental safeguard policies, an exercise which will no doubt set an influential precedent for safeguard standards for investment lending generally. What will be the fate of human rights in this dynamic and increasingly high-stakes industry, and what measures are needed to ensure that the rights of the poorest communities are not traded off in the quest for market share?Mac Darrow (Phd, Utrecht; M Int Law, ANU) is Chief of the Millennium Development Goals Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN/OHCHR), Geneva, Switzerland, responsible for UN/OHCHR's work in integrating human rights within the development policies and programmes of the United Nations system. He was previously Secretary to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and prior to that, Research Fellow at the Academy of European Law, European University Institute, Florence, and government lawyer with the Attorney-General's Department of the Commonwealth of Australia. He has been a Visiting Professor at the American University’s Academy of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Visiting Fellow at the Law School of the University of New South Wales, and consultant to the World Bank and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).Mac has published monographs, chapters in edited works and articles in refereed journals on topics including international human rights law and development, international organisations and financial institutions, socio-economic rights, the post-2015 development agenda, disability discrimination law, UN Security Council reform, and international law relating to human rights and climate change. Image by Kurt Bauschardt on Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.  

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