“Development” Finance and the Roll-back of Social and Environmental Protections

By Gretchen Gordon Jan 27, 2017


This infographic produced by the Coalition for Human Rights in Development together with Otros Mundos and Movimiento M4 tells the complex story of “Development” Finance and the Roll-back of Social and Environmental Protections currently impacting communities all around the world.

Today, governments and big development banks are investing billions of dollars in infrastructure, energy, and agriculture projects in the name of development. But instead of designing projects to meet the needs and priorities of poor communities, too often these development projects are designed to maximize corporate profits. Without strong protections to ensure that local communities and marginalized groups are consulted and their human rights are respected, development projects can result in the eviction of communities or the plundering of their natural resources.

Many of the big development banks have social and environmental safeguard policies to ensure that their investments do not cause harm. But too often these policies are not enforced. Some banks are moving to weaken their safeguards and only rely on the national laws where they’re investing. At the same time, around the world, governments are watering down these social and environmental protections, like labor laws and environmental licensing rules, in an effort to attract investors and speed up “development”. Governments are using public private partnerships to effectively privatize public goods and services. Development banks are encouraging and even facilitating this rollback of national laws. What’s more, corporations are using free trade agreements and tribunals run by the World Bank to challenge national laws and regulations that threaten their profits.

Communities and civil society groups have fought hard to push national governments and development banks to develop laws and safeguards to protect human rights and the environment. But now when communities fight to defend their human rights in the face of harmful development activities and this rollback of social and environmental protections, they can face intimidation and violent repression. Governments are increasingly restricting the space for civil society to participate in development processes and to have a say in their development.

“Development” Finance and the Roll-back of Social and Environmental Protections tells the story of 12 countries that have rolled back national social and environmental protections in recent years in order to attract investment. It introduces the many national and multilateral development banks and other financial institutions that are not only driving investment in development, but in many cases facilitating a weakening of regulatory frameworks around the world. The purpose is to show how these different actors and processes are all connected – how the construction of megadams in Brazil and the privatization of public services in Tunisia are connected to the weakening of land rights in India, the slashing of environmental protections in South Africa, and the crackdown against civil society in Mexico.

By understanding the global landscape of development finance and the rollback of social and environmental protections, we can better see how our different struggles are in fact intricately connected. In this way we can fight not just to change a single development project, but to bring about a new model of development – one that responds to the needs and priorities of poor communities and marginalized groups, and one that respects human rights and preserves our environment.

The infographic is available for download in English, Spanish, FrenchPortuguese, and Hindi and can be printed as a poster in A2 or A3 size for use in workshops and other educational activities.


About the Author:
Gretchen Gordon
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