World Rainforest Movement

Concerns over the revision of the World Bank’s Indigenous Peoples policy

The World Bank’s 1991 Indigenous Peoples Policy (Operational Directive 4.20) forms one of ten so-called “safeguard policies” that aim to ensure that Bank-funded operations do not cause adverse environmental and social impacts in borrower countries. OD4.20 seeks to ensure that Bank staff, borrower governments and implementing agencies take positive action to safeguard indigenous rights by: securing land tenure and resource access; mitigating negative development impacts; guaranteeing participation; and assuring receipt of benefits.

Since the mid-1990s, OD.420 and other safeguard policies including the Forest Policy, have been undergoing a process of revision as part of a Bank-wide “conversion” The Bank argues that simplifying and streamlining its policies is necessary because clearer guidance will improve the quality of compliance with safeguard provisions.

Consequently, the Bank circulated an “Approach Paper” on the revision of OD4.20 to Indigenous Peoples Organisations and NGOs in 1998. The paper proposed that revision should concentrate on clarifying definitions and procedures. In response, indigenous peoples and indigenous rights advocates made clear to the Bank that any revised policy must be stronger than the existing directive, particularly as regards land rights and the right to self-determination. Civil society organisations have also been urging the Bank to carry out a thorough implementation review so that any policy revision takes into account indigenous views and addresses the real difficulties the Bank has had in implementing the policy on the ground. However, the Bank resisted pressure to carry out a proper review. Meanwhile, the revision process has been bogged down within the Bank for two years.

To demonstrate the need for a full implementation review, in May 2000 the Forest Peoples Programme and Bank Information Center (a major US-based NGO that tracks the Bank) organised a workshop in Washington DC on “Indigenous Peoples, Forests and the World Bank.” The workshop discussed eight case studies from Latin America, Africa and Asia prepared by indigenous peoples about their own experiences of different Bank-assisted operations affecting their communities and territories. The primary goals of the workshop were to examine the quality of the implementation of OD4.20 during the 1990s and contribute to the current revision of the World Bank’s policies on Indigenous Peoples and on Forests.

The workshop found that compliance with OD4.20 is often weak and sometimes highly unsatisfactory, especially with regard to the critical needs for indigenous people’s participation and secure land rights. For example, there was not one case where indigenous peoples felt they had participated in a meaningful way during the project preparation phase. The workshop demonstrated how indigenous peoples still often find themselves worse off after Bank projects due to repeated patterns of poor compliance that include:

– No harmonisation of borrower policies with international standards and Bank policies
– Baseline studies superficial or absent in project preparation
– Required legal reforms omitted
– Procedural oversights in appraisal
– Required capacity-building elements missing
– Indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights not secured
– Required ‘Indigenous Peoples Development Plan’ omitted
– Inadequate benefit-sharing
– Ineffective supervision
– Disinclination to enforce loan agreements

Additional case studies undertaken by NGOs and presented at the workshop revealed that where OD4.20 was implemented effectively in Bank operations, this has been the result of long project preparation times, intensive staff inputs, willingness to pay unusually high ‘transaction costs’, stronger borrower government commitments to reform and genuinely participatory decision-making both in project preparation and implementation.

The case studies also exposed the structural and financial obstacles to effective implementation. It was noted that Bank staff lacks the time, resources and incentives to adhere properly to safeguard policies like OD4.20. A central conclusion of the workshop was that clarifying policies alone will not improve implementation. It is essential that the World Bank also undertakes major reforms to the incentive structure and budget framework for its safeguard work. More effective compliance will also require:

– A revised Indigenous Peoples policy which adheres to international law, follows the principle of prior and informed consent, recognises and secures indigenous peoples’ customary rights to lands and resources, and provides mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts.
– Stronger enforcement mechanisms to back up conditions in loan agreements
– Greater accountability of both the World Bank and borrower governments to indigenous peoples, with agreements that are enforceable in the national courts
– Independent monitoring and supervision, with agreed performance-based indicators
– Clearer guidance to staff on the interpretation and application of the policy
– Stronger mechanisms for participation and access to information in appropriate languages
– Application of the policy to structural adjustment lending.

All indications are that the First Draft of the revised Indigenous Peoples Policy (now to be called OP4.10) will be released publicly early in 2001 when the Bank will launch a series of regional consultation meetings to discuss the Draft with indigenous peoples and civil society organisations. Based on the “conversion” of other safeguard policies like the Involuntary Resettlement Policy, indigenous groups and their supporters are worried that the revised Indigenous Peoples policy might actually be weaker than OD4.20. The fear is that the policy may be hot on some issues like participation and benefit sharing, but sidestep tough issues linked to land rights and self-determination. The concern is that the Bank will adopt a more ambiguous “Panel proof” policy which will not provide indigenous peoples with firm grounds for redress through the Inspection Panel. We need to be vigilant to

prevent this happening.

By: Tom Griffiths, Forest Peoples Programme, e-mail:

(The full FPP-BIC workshop report is available from , or . Hard copies of the summary workshop report, copies of individual indigenous case studies and more detailed briefings on the revision of the Bank’s Indigenous Peoples and Forests policies can be obtained from the Forest Peoples Programme at )