Children working on shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh © Ruben Dao
Children working on shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh. © Ruben Dao

For many years, international financial institutions did not consider human rights norms as part of their work. It is only relatively recently that they have started to take human rights standards into account. Yet, none of the financial institutions have adopted a comprehensive human rights policy with adequate standards of implementation. Most multilateral development banks have adopted social and environmental policies, which most often do not use human rights language. The different policies and standards applied by these institutions remain uneven, vague and widely criticised. nevertheless, where an institution’s social and environmental policies correspond with human rights law, human rights concerns can be raised before complaints mechanisms that banks have put in place to attempt to resolve disputes and/or to assess whether a project is compliant with the institution’s policies. Most accountability mechanisms have two functions, a ’dispute resolution’ or ’problem solving’ function and a ’compliance’ function. These mechanisms may entail on-site visits by inspectors and generate reports, including recommendations for corrective action plans.

Although most of these mechanisms remain criticised for various reasons (lack of staff with required expertise, length of processes, lack of enforcement of recommendations), they can be used by civil society as powerful lobbying tools. Moreover, these mechanisms’ problem-solving function may enable communities to participate in negotiating a settlement agreement to address their concerns.

The review, by these mechanisms, of a project supported by a financial institution may lead to adjustments in the project to better benefit communities, or to better compensation packages than those initially offered by corporations. However, these mechanisms do not directly provide reparation to victims, and are often incapable of providing adequate remedy for victims of serious human rights violations. They can also lead to institutions’ withdrawals from projects which can in turn paralyse a company’s activities.

The list of the projects financially-supported by these institutions is normally publicly made available on their respective websites. As it can prove difficult to find which institution may be financing a project due to a lack of accessible information and increased channelling through financial intermediaries, it is recommended to contact specialised NGOs to seek assistance in researching which institutions may be financially supporting the project. 1