The Great Ventriloquist Act: The World Bank’s Bad Business in India exposes how India’s one-track focus on improving its DBR has allowed massive environmental, labor, and human rights abuses to take place. Most appalling is the case of Vedanta Resources Plc, a company that benefitted from the removal of environmental safeguards and was able to operate a damaging copper smelter within the city limits of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu—a mere 8.4 miles away from the ecologically fragile Gulf of Mannar Biosphere reserve. Not only has the smelter been responsible for massive environmental destruction, it was the site of a massacre of 13 activists protesting its expansion in May 2018.
Indonesia: The World Bank’s Failed East Asian Miracle details how Bank-backed policy reforms have led to the displacement, criminalization, and even murder of smallholder farmers and indigenous defenders to make way for mega-agricultural projects. While Indonesia’s rapidly expanding palm oil sector has been heralded as a boon for the economy, its price tag includes massive deforestation, widespread loss of indigenous land, rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and more.
Down On the Seed, the World Bank Enables Corporate Takeover of Seeds, exposes that while the World Bank claims to promote “smart and balanced policies,” its Enabling the Business of Agriculture index blatantly ignores farmer-managed seed systems. Instead, it reinforces the stranglehold of agrochemical companies and Western nations by pushing for intellectual property rights in agriculture, so that private breeders profiteer from the use of their seeds by farmers.
The Unholy Alliance, Five Western Donors Shape a Pro-Corporate Agenda for African Agriculture, exposes how a coalition of four donor countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is shaping a pro-business environment in the agricultural sector of developing countries, especially in Africa. Download the report and donor factsheets at the Oakland Institute website.
In March 2014, the multicontinental campaign Our Land Our Business was launched to demand the end of the World Bank’s Doing Business project and Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) initiative, recently renamed Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA). Bringing together over 260 NGOs, farmer groups, grassroots organizations, and trade unions, Our Land Our Business condemns the World Bank business indicators, which rank countries on their investment climate for pushing a one-size-fits- all model and facilitating large-scale land grabs in developing countries.
Established in 1944 with the objective of reducing poverty, the World Bank, headquartered in Washington, DC, is an international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance as well as advisory services to enhance development in poor and transitioning countries.
Despite its praiseworthy goals, the World Bank’s activities and undue influence over policy making in developing countries have come under heavy criticism over the years. Countless protests have denounced the Bank’s neoliberal agenda, which includes unfair conditionality policies, austerity measures that deny people’s right to healthcare or education, support for environmentally destructive projects, and sham debt relief. The Bank’s 1980s Structural Adjustments Programs (SAPs), impoverished millions in developing countries after imposing the withdrawal of state intervention and sweeping liberalization of economies as conditions to receive loans. The saps came under heavy attack from all quarters of civil society until they were officially withdrawn in 2002.
The World Bank’s current strategy still upholds a fundamentally pro-corporate agenda and a neoliberal vision of the economy. This is notably the case in the agricultural sector, where the Bank strongly advocates for industrial farming and farmers’ integration into the global market. The mantra of “Trade not aid” has been the driver of foreign direct investment (FDI), portrayed as the silver bullet solution to help developing countries shift to capital- and chemical-intensive farming methods.
While nearly 80 percent of food consumed in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is produced by smallholder farmers, the Bank negates the importance of small-scale farming for sustainable rural development and food security. Family farmers account for 80 percent of all holdings in the developing world, therefore smallholders’ own investments—not FDIs—are the main force sustaining agriculture and should be encouraged. as a further disconnect, the Bank chooses to overlook the negative record of FDIs in receiving countries. Consequently, rural communities and smallholder farmers have been recurrent victims of FDI-supported “development” projects that have resulted in widespread environmental damage, forcible displacement of local communities, and restricted or barred access to ancestral lands and resources.
In 2010, the Oakland institute highlighted the role of the World Bank in promoting large-scale private investments in agriculture that resulted in widespread land grabs, further impoverishing rural and farming communities. One of the Bank’s key tools for promoting private investment is its annual doing Business (DB) ranking of countries, which determines how national regulations operate in favor of the “ease of doing business.” While the Bank has no authority or legitimacy to benchmark and rank countries, the DB indicator has come to heavily impact governance in countries since it is closely followed by investors around the world, and influences funding by the Bank as well as other donors. as a result, the DB framework is creating competition between nations to cut down economic regulations as well as environmental and social safeguards in order to score better in the ranking. Although not directly focused on the agricultural sector, the DB ranking has the collateral effect of facilitating land grabbing by advocating for “protection of investors” and property reforms that make land a marketable commodity and facilitate large-scale land acquisitions.
Showing complete disregard for these detrimental effects, the Bank recently embarked on new plans to enhance foreign corporate control, largely via FDI, in the agricultural sector of developing countries.
In 2013, the Bank launched the Benchmarking the Business of agriculture (BBA indicator), which is partly based on the DB model and methodology. This project aims “to inform and to leverage policy reforms which lead to a more modern agriculture sector, built primarily on the basis of commercial viable family farms.” However, the Bank fails to demonstrate how farmers will benefit from the benchmarking of the agricultural sector in their own country. On the contrary, private agribusiness investors appear to be the core beneficiaries of the project, which again underlies a push for neoliberal land policy and further deregulation of the agricultural sector. The BBA, just like the DB, is another tool for fostering economic deregulation to benefit corporate interests at the expense of the citizens of developing countries.
The DB ranking and Benchmarking the Business of agriculture are today’s versions of the structural adjustment programs. There is an urgency to act to stop the DB ranking and to halt the BBA while it is still at its development stage, to prevent land grabbing and further dispossession of smallholders.