Thursday, 13 September 2007

Controversial mining projects: Weaknesses of IFC standards

A coalition of anti-poverty and environmental organisations called on the private sector arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), to re-write and improve its new environmental and safety guidelines for large-scale mining projects. The coalition of WWF, Oxfam, EARTHWORKS, the Bank Information Center and the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2) released a 20-page analysis that found serious shortcomings in the draft guidelines. The guidelines lack measurable standards for critical issues, such as preventing water contamination – a major concern with large scale mining – and disposal of toxic wastes. The new rules also do not ensure that mines will be closed down properly to avoid long-term pollution problems.

Mining, oil and gas investments are the most profitable of the Bank’s IFC, which lends money directly to private companies. The projects have generated controversy in recent years due to pollution and violent conflicts that have occurred at some mine sites, and for their limited contribution to poverty reduction in affected areas. The IFC’s social and environmental policies and accompanying guidelines are especially important because they are used by private banks who are signatories to the Equator Principles – a commitment toward environmentally and socially responsible lending signed by banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America, and HSBC. Signatories to the principles encompass more than three quarters of all project finance, including most private lending in the mining sector.

“These new guidelines simply will not protect communities from the harmful impacts of large-scale mining and should be redrafted,” said David Chambers, a mining expert at the Center for Science in Public Participation. “We urge the IFC to remedy this by setting clear and measurable targets in its environmental health and safety guidelines,” added noted Marta Miranda of the WWF. “If IFC is going to remain involved in this sector, it must demonstrate clearly that its projects are protecting communities and the environment, and are helping reduce poverty,” said Keith Slack of Oxfam America. - The groups are calling on the IFC to redraft the guidelines with the participation of independent experts and civil society organizations and to document the actual contributions its mining projects make to poverty reduction.

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