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Earth Day 2000 Greenwash Sweepstakes: The World Bank

by Kenny BrunoSpecial to CorpWatch
April 22nd, 2000

And the first runner up in the CorpWatch Earth Day 2000 Greenwash Sweepstakes is:

James "Bonds" Wolfensohn,
President of the World Bank


For claiming that World Bank Bonds are a "socially responsible investment."

In honor of this Award, World President James "Bonds" Wolfensohn will receive a low-interest loan to pay for his upcoming Toxic Tour of World Bank Project sites. CorpWatch's experienced Toxic Tour leaders, including 50 Years in Enough Director Njoki Njehu, Narmada Dam activist Medha Patkar, Free Tibet Lama Thupten Tsering and anti-incinerator rabble rouser Ann "The Organizer" Leonard will personally guide Mr. "Bonds" in experiencing the awesome impact of World Bank loans. Scuba gear for visiting indigenous villages submerged by World Bank-financed dams is included in this unique tour package. Retail value of Toxic Tour: approx. $50 million.

World Bank Bonds Greenwash Ad


The Fine Print: For Structurally Adjusted Personnel (SAP) use only -- In order to qualify for this loan, Mr. "Bonds" must structurally adjust his life. He must sell his house in Wyoming (the one near the incinerator he opposes) and move to West Bengal, India adjacent to the World Bank financed incinerator there.


Less than a week before Earth Day 2000, the meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington provoked the biggest mobilization since Seattle, and one of the largest in recent memory. Thousands of people put their bodies on the line and were arrested, while thousands more marched against this previously obscure organization.

So, you might be thinking: "They haven't fooled anyone! They don't deserve a Greenwash Award!"

We take your point. The World Bank has been practicing greenwash unsuccessfully since the mid-1980's, when enviromentalists began to attack it. In particular, the Bank has specialized in the greenwash art of co-optation, that is, commandeering and redefining the language of its critics. This practice goes back to the Bank Presidency of Robert MacNamara, architect of the Vietnam War (for which he is sorry) and author of the World Bank's central role in Third World development debacles (for which he is not).

But, Dear Vigilant Reader, some of you nominated the World Bank for this Greenwash Award anyway, because of its attempt to market World Bank bonds as "socially responsible investments." You pointed to the cool photos on their website of women and children of inspiringly diverse ethnicities apparently experiencing the Bank's largesse, together with harmonious scenes of supposedly Bank-induced environmentally sustainable development. Our judges agree that pretending to join the burdgeoning ethical investment movement in this country is clever enough, devious enough, and, given the massive opposition to the Bank worldwide, ballsy enough, to win 2nd Prize in the Greenwash Sweepstakes.

So off-base is the marketing of Bank Bonds as socially responsible that there is actually a movement to boycott Bank Bonds by churches, labor groups, pension fund, universities and local governments.

Why?

If we had to answer in three letters, they would be S-A-P. S-A-P means nothing to most Americans. But in the Third World, among peasants and villagers, the dreaded letters are a curse, provoking outrage, spitting, loathing, gnashing of teeth.

SAP's (or Structural Adjustment Programs to acronymally challenged) are a set of draconian economic policy measures imposed by the IMF and World Bank on developing countries needing loans. SAP's reorient economies towards export-oriented growth and include "austerity measures" such as cutting government spending on health care and education, forcing governments to increase the cost of food, health care and other basic necessities and prioritizing the interests of foreign corporations over the needs of most people.

SAPs hurt women. SAPs hurt children. SAPs hurt the poor. Over 65% of the Bank's loans go to implementing these sadistic conditions. Even the IMF has admitted they don't work.

In Haiti, the IMF and World Bank SAPed the government, blocking it from raising the minimum wage and then demanded the privatization of profitable public companies which generated revenue for desperately needed services. The IMF insisted that Haiti should cut government services by half, in spite of a national shortage of teachers and health care workers, a life expectancy of 49 years for men and 53 years for women, 45% literacy and infant mortality running at nearly 10%.

Space considerations prevent a full analysis of why SAP's are so intensely reviled, but visit our links for more information.


World Bank and the Environment

The Bank's track record on environmental issues is horrendous and is subject to campaigns by activists across the world. Again space considerations prevent a full accounting of their destructiveness. But even considering just two areas, loans for dams and fossil fuels, the World Bank may be the single largest financier of environmental destruction worldwide.

Socially responsible, eh?

Let's hear what socially reponsible investment professionals have to say about Bank Bonds.

"No socially responsible investor would touch World Bank bonds with a ten-foot pole." -- Simon Billenness, Trillium Assets Management

"The IBRD [World Bank] was removed from our 'approved issuers' list approximately three years ago, and we do not foresee its reinstatement any time soon." -- Anita Green, Director of Social Research, Pax World Fund Family, March 14, 2000

"At one point we did have some World Bank debt in that fund, but we sold the securities for social reasonswe still have a policy of not investing in World Bank debt..." -- Jerome L. Dodson, President, Parnassus Investments, February 24, 2000

"As socially responsible investors we do not invest or recommend investment in World Bank bonds because of the Bank's record for financing projects and supporting policies that are documented financial, social and environmental failures. As socially responsible investors we do not support the narrowly defined growth-centric development model promoted by the World Bank that has widened the gap between the rich and poor globally. As proponents of financial and economic democracy we condemn the secretive mode of operation of the World Bank and its lack of accountability to the citizens of debtor countries who are most directly affected by the Bank's projects and policies, and to taxpayers who fund it." -- Citizens Advisers, San Francisco, CA

According to International Rivers Network, The World Bank has subsidized some 600 dams in 93 countries with a whopping $58 billion. All told, dams have displaced at least 30 million people worldwide. The Chixoy Dam in Guatemala was among the most notorious Bank projects ever, because of the rapes, murders and tortures committed while relocating Maya Achi Indian people for the dam.

According to the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, since the 1992 Earth Summit, the World Bank has spent twenty-five times more on climate-changing fossil fuels than on renewables. The fossil fuel projects the World Bank has financed will over the next twenty to fifty years add carbon dioxide emissions to the Earth's atmosphere equivalent to 1.3 times the total amount emitted by all the world's countries in 1995. World Bank has spent 13.6 billion on fossil fuels proejcts which will, over their lifetimes, release 37.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere -- more than the total CO2 emissions for all country for a year.

The emphasis on fossil fuels has not abated. In 1999, 40% of the World Bank Group's portfolio went to oil, mining and gas projects- contributing significantly to global warming.

The World Bank even supports the Chad-Cameroon pipeline. They plan to join Exxon and Chevron in financing a 600-mile pipeline that will carry oil from Chad to the coast of Cameroon, causing severe, irreversible environmental damage as it cuts through indigenous villages, hundreds of miles of rainforest, and several wildlife sanctuaries.