• Wed. Apr 24th, 2024

World Bank unit faces pressure to compensate alleged abuse victims

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The board of the International Finance Corporation is meeting on Thursday under growing pressure to pay compensation to alleged victims of child sexual abuse in a network of schools in Kenya operated by an education company it funded.

The IFC, the private finance arm of the World Bank, is set to discuss its response to an investigation by its Compliance Advisor Ombudsman that it failed to meet the conditions in its own sustainability policies after investing $13.5mn in Bridge International Academies.

Its decision could set a precedent for future “remediation” payments by international financial institutions, including other IFC-backed projects where there have been allegations of human rights abuses.

The discussion raises wider questions about the accountability of social impact organisations. Bridge International, now rebranded NewGlobe, which runs a wider range of educational programmes, also received funding from groups linked to Pierre Omidyar, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Ackman. Those groups have not faced similar calls for remediation.

The ombudsman’s report relates to 21 alleged cases of abuse against children over the past decade, and makes reference to a longer list of up to 70 alleged abuse cases which it said were logged by Bridge and shared with an IFC observer to the company’s board, who then destroyed the list of names.

Civil society groups wrote last week to Ajay Banga, the president of the World Bank, alleging the IFC “took limited steps” in ensuring Bridge managed the risks of child sexual abuse, “turned a blind eye” when incidents were reported and ultimately exited from its investment “without taking any measure to ensure children who were abused received recompense or rehabilitation assistance”.

They say the IFC contributed to the suffering of the children through “flagrant and persistent non-compliance with its environmental and social policies”.

A draft management action plan set to be discussed by the IFC board calls for “a collective approach to remedy” including funding of community prevention and rehabilitation policies but nothing directly for those affected.

David Pred, head of the advocacy group Inclusive Development International, claimed the IFC had failed to discuss any proposed remediation with the children concerned. They were seeking compensation, support for school fees, counselling and legal fees from the IFC, he said, and wanted a public apology and training and enhanced safeguarding from Bridge.

Under pressure from funders led by the US, as well as other critics including teachers’ unions, IFC agreed in 2020 to stop investing in private sector schools around the world and finally exited Bridge in 2022.

The ombudsman said it could not comment on internal matters but noted that its final report, submitted last autumn, had identified “several findings of IFC’s non-compliance with its sustainability policy and related harm with respect to its investment in Bridge International Academies”.

It added: “Our position is that any approach to remediation should be survivor-centric and enable the support and rehabilitation necessary for the survivors to receive remedy for harm suffered.”

The World Bank said it was “deeply concerned” about the allegations and had “launched an in-depth portfolio review to identify projects with elevated risks of gender-based violence, including against children”.

It said the IFC would publish a response with “proposed, time-bound remedial actions” in the coming weeks. “Sexual abuse of children is abhorrent and any form of abuse in World Bank Group-financed projects is unacceptable.”

NewGlobe did not respond to several requests for comment, but in a reply to an earlier report by The Intercept, lawyers for the company said “a few bad apples” should not “tarnish” the overall work and success of its educators and schools, and argued the problem of sexual abuse of children was widespread in Kenyan schools beyond its own.

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