The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is not legally bound by international or national laws, so the only way communities can hold it to account is through its own policies.
The safeguard policies are intended to protect communities from harmful impacts of ADB projects, with particular consideration of impacts on local indigenous communities, people affected by involuntary resettlement, and environmental impacts.
It is for this reason that Oxfam Australia closely monitors the ADB’s Safeguard Policies.
Good safeguard policies equals good development
Developers, including the ADB, sometimes regard safeguard requirements as unnecessary burdens. But good safeguards ensure good development projects with lasting social, environmental and economic benefits.
If a developer can ensure that communities support a project, the project is much more likely to be successful. Likewise, a project that is managed well environmentally will have better overall outcomes.
If safeguards are ignored the costs of remedying the harmful effects often undermine the overall project outcome.
Review of the safeguard policies
On July 20, 2009, the ADB issued a new version of its safeguards policies in the form of a Safeguard Policy Statement. The new policy is the result of a four-year revision process of the ADB’s Safeguard Policies, which had previously existed in three separate policies (one on environment, one on Indigenous people, and one on involuntary resettlement).
When the ADB first announced its plans to revise these policies and consolidate them into one, Oxfam and civil society partners were concerned that due to commercial pressures, the policy review would result in weaker protections for communities and the environment. Early draft documents of the new policy did, in fact, remove significant protections.
Oxfam and civil society organisations, under the coordination of our partner NGO Forum on the ADB, intervened at several points during the review to urge the ADB to improve its process and the content of the proposed new policy. The concerted campaign resulted in a public commitment, from ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda, that the ADB would not weaken its existing safeguard policies.
On the basis of this commitment, the civil society network sent submissions to the ADB on the policy drafts in 2009 listing provisions that would have to be included in order to prevent any weakening. The approved policy includes some of the network’s recommendations, and overall, Oxfam and the civil society network played a key role in moving the policy from very weak drafts to a much stronger final policy.
Positive outcomes include the integration of gender considerations into the policies, ie looking at the impacts of projects specifically on women and involving women more explicitly in consultation processes around projects. The new policy also requires that the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable communities must be improved (not just replaced), and that there is a clear definition of projects the ADB is prohibited from financing, because they are considered too risky.
However, in some policy areas the final Safeguard Policy Statement still falls short of existing policies. One clear weakness is the narrowing of the definition of people eligible for compensation under the resettlement policy. In addition, the policy does not include clear requirements on disclosure of some key documents related to environmental impacts.
One of the biggest disappointments is that the policy fails to recognise the concept of free, prior, informed consent for indigenous peoples as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Redress in cases of policy violation
If communities believe that they have suffered harm due to an ADB project, which may have been caused by policy violation, they can complain to the ADB’s internal complaints mechanism. For more information about this process go to the following toolkit: A Guide to Unpacking the ADB – NGO Forum/BIC.