Operating under the slogan “Working for a world free of poverty”, The World Bank is a multilateral institution that provides financial and technical support to developing countries. It was founded in 1944 with the purpose of helping countries after the post-war period (World Bank, 2015). At present, the organisation has two main goals:
- “End extreme poverty by decreasing the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day to no more than 3%.” (World Bank, 2015)
- “Promote shared prosperity by fostering the income growth of the bottom 40% for every country.” (World Bank, 2015)
In spite of its apparent good purpose, the Bank has often come under fire by NGOs, social movements, experts and politicians. It may be a key institution, but its way of operating needs restructurings, as disapproval keeps increasing, and it is at risk of a higher number people advocating for its disappearance.
One of the biggest criticisms it faces is how it pushes prevailing neoliberal agendas, while promoting globalisation as perfect and free from evils, when many experts have contradicted this because it creates more income inequality and a bigger gap between the rich and the poor (The Development Dictionary, 2010). Development scholars Robin Broad argues that even if the Bank is meant to be impartial and rigorous, many research and data they publish and sponsor tends to be biased, manipulated or/and selective, while views that go against the institution values are ignored and disheartened (Broad, 2007).
Another problematic aspect of the Bank’s work is its interest in markets over human rights. The institution offers financial support with conditions to the recipients of the money. Many times, those conditions include cuts to public services, healthcare and education, as well as a demand for low wages (Global Exchange, 2001). Those requirements harm the poor, while benefiting multinational organisations based on countries that curiously have the most control over the Bank’s decisions (Global Exchange, 2001). An example would be Africa and the AIDS epidemic of 1990s and 2000s, back when many African governments were forced to put fees in their healthcare services to receive financial support (Global Exchange, 2001). In Kenya, the implementation of fees in Nairobi’s Special Treatment Clinic for Sexually Transmitted Diseases resulted in a decrease of people attending the clinic over a nine-month period, 40% less for men and 65% less of women (Global Exchange, 2001).
Another issue to discuss is how sustainable and ethical are the projects the Bank supports. Citizens’ opinions in developing countries tend to be ignored when crafting policies and advice pieces: they are only included when plans are already made and they are merely integrated into them, which can result in negative consequences (The Companion to Development Studies, 2014). Clear cases for this would be the Sardar Sarovar Dam project in India, in which residents were unwillingly displaced and numerous human rights violation occurred, and the Polonoreste project in Brazil, in which a highway was constructed in the Amazonas, causing great forest loss and intrusions in Amerindian reserves (Peet, 2003).
(Protests in India opposing the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2012/mar/14/controversial-dam-projects-in-pictures)
And the last but not least important denunciation about the Bank is how it is run by American imperialism. The institution was founded in USA partly by Americans, its presidents are normally American, many of its experts got their PHDs from North American universities, and discussions are centred on Anglo-American ideas of how economies should work (Wade, 2001). The Bank is governed by a few industrialised countries, USA having the most votes, 17%, followed by Japan with 6% and Germany with 4.7% (Wade, 2001). While most decisions made affect developing countries, these have little say in what they are going to be imposed and demanded to implement. Additionally, the institution has proved how it dislikes thinking that contradicts American desires. At the end of the 20th century, the former chief economist of the institution, Joseph Stiglitz, was made resign by the Bank’s president after pressure of the USA Treasury because of Stiglitz critics towards the Bank and the IMF due to their free market policies in East Asia, between other complains (Wade, 2001).
(Graphic representation of USA’s dominance. Source: http://www.globalresearch.ca/world-war-iii-class-conflict-and-the-history-of-warfare-the-global-corporate-elites-against-the-worlds-people/5386248)
On conclusion: the World Bank is an institution that can be counterproductive to meet its objectives. It either doesn’t care much about real development or it needs a wake-up call. There is a need for serious reforms and changes, in order to be more democratic and less influenced by Americentrism, as well as better evaluation and assessment of consequences of projects they support. And it is time it stops ignoring the needs of citizens in developing countries and their governments.
Sharing a mixture of information and opinion,
Emilie H. Featherington
(Word Count: 786)
- Broad, R. (2007) ‘Knowledge management’: a case study of the World Bank’s research department’. Development in Practice, 17:700-708.
- Global Exchange (2001). How the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Undermine Democracy and Erode Human Rights. Available at: http://www.globalexchange.org/resources/wbimf/report (Accessed 02/11/2015)
- Peet, R. (2003) Unholy Trinity: The IMF, World Bank and WTO. London: Zed Books.
- Sachs, W. 2010. The Development Dictionary. 2nd New York, USA: Zed Books.
- Vandana, D. Potter, R. The Companion to Development Studies. 3rd Oxon: Routledge.
- Wade, R. (2001) ‘Showdown at the World Bank’. New Left Review 7:124-137.
- World Bank (2015) Chronology. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/about/archives/history/chronology (Accessed: 02/11/2015)