JUNE 2000∑ VOLUME 21 ∑ NUMBER 6


WORLD BANK: REAPING A GRIM HARVEST

 
The World Bank's
Revolving Door

Share Program Exchanges
World Bank and Corporate Employees
 

by Charlie Cray

Just weeks after tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C. to protest the Bank's role in corporate-led globalization, the Bank opened its doors to the first conference of its Staff Exchange Program, or "Share" -- a program enabling employee sharing between multinational corporations and the World Bank.

Started by World Bank President James Wolfensohn in 1995, the Share program is, according Wolfensohn, intended to "foster closer partnerships with external organizations, particularly the private sector, so as to introduce fresh perspectives and new approaches to deliver better services to our clients."

"When Mr. Wolfensohn first came to the Bank, he thought it was much too incestuous in its thinking," says Pauline Ramprasad, human resources manager of the program. "We did things for the clients out there in the developing world, but it was more driven by an internally cloned system of thinking rather than a more open, market-oriented approach."

Wolfensohn won approval from the Bank's board for funding the staff exchange program as well as an executive development program conducted with Harvard and other business schools. "Mr. Wolfensohn's thinking is that there cannot be sustainable development without an active private sector," Ramprasad says.

But critics say the last thing the World Bank needs is closer ties to big business.

"I think this Share program is pretty outrageous, because of Wolfensohn's bloated rhetoric about putting smiles on the faces of poor children," says Bruce Rich, Environmental Defense's program manager, international programs. "It just shows how he's opened the Bank up like a sieve to all sorts of corporate influence."

The Contractor Connection
Despite Wolfensohn's professed desire to "foster cultural change in the global development community," the list of "partners" signed onto the Share program is hardly new to the Bank. Dominated by large multinationals, many of the "partners" are contractors and banks with existing relationships with the World Bank.

The list of the Bank's 85 Share partners includes dozens of multinationals, most of which work as Bank contractors or are clients of the Bank's insurance or finance arms, including Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), Aventis, BP Amoco, Citibank, Daimler-Chrysler, Deutsche Bank, Dow AgroSciences, Enron, Exxon-Mobil, Nippon Steel, Novartis, Saudi Aramco, Shell and Sumitomo. The few non-corporate partners include related development banks, United Nations agencies, as well as a few non-governmental organizations, (NGOs) including the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and ActionAid of the U.K.

During the Share conference, the Bank signed on with its eighty-fifth partner -- the Samsung Corporation. Currently there are 57 loaned corporate employees and other Share partners working at the Bank, while 40 Bank staffers have worked on assignment outside.

"You'd think their cultures are close enough as it is," says Kenny Bruno, a research associate with the Transnational Resource and Action Center, who has monitored corporate influence at international institutions such as the United Nations [See "Perilous Partnerships: The UN's Corporate Outreach Program," Multinational Monitor, March 2000]. "This just shows the World Bank's true stripes as an organization that adheres to the neoliberal ideology that big business especially can provide the key to sustainability and eliminating poverty."

Even some of the Bank's own partners have expressed surprise at the predominance of multinationals in the program. "In the mid-1980s, I spent two years in the office of the UK Executive Director for the World Bank, so I expected to fit in pretty easily when I came to the World Bank in September 1999," says Gregory Toulmin of the British Government's Department for International Development in Share's first newsletter. "In fact I suffered several shocks --starting with the very private-sector oriented nature of the staff exchange."

Asked why the program is dominated by relationships with multinationals, Ramprasad says, "we're working to balance that out. For instance, we want to involve more of the emerging private sector from places like Africa, and while the emphasis continues heavily to be on the private sector, we now have regional development banks, specialized UN agencies, and so on. We also have NGOs and even a couple of ministries of finance."

Bank officials claim the exchange program ensures there are also no conflicts of interest despite the fact that there is no policy restricting the exchange of staff while a company is bidding on Bank projects. Once seconded to the Bank, the new partners are not allowed to work on anything related to their parent company. "We rigorously manage even the perception of conflicts of interest," says Ramprasad. "Everyone at the Bank has to agree to its conflict of interest policy, which doesn't stop when you leave the Bank. It continues a couple of years after that."

Nevertheless, when asked what the corporations get from the program, Ramprasad says, "they get a lot out of it. For one, if the private sector is thinking of how to establish business in a country, with the Bank they're involved with the country policy dialogue. This could as a byproduct help them understand how the Bank operates and why the Bank would make certain policy decisions about loans which they may bid on at a later date ... just because you're working with us you get an advantage to knowing how to do that."

Bank officials, on the other hand, claim they have learned many of the efficiencies and "line-oriented results" of business culture. Most important, apparently, is the Bank's ability to learn from its partners how to effectively implement marketization plans, e.g. privatization of public services, including water and electricity.

If it is unclear to the Bank's critics how much such skills trickle down in the way of increased "development" for the poor, it is not opaque to the Bank's partners.

"I can see two ways that we are helping the poorest," says David Stiggers, market development manager from Severn Trent Water Authority, who, while on loan to the Bank, is responsible for privatization of water and sanitation in Niger and similar projects in Nigeria. "Firstly, by regularizing the position of private vendors, and hopefully stabilizing the price, and secondly, in the conventional way by expanding the supply zone through new investment."


Long-Term Trend
Bank-corporate staff exchange is not novel in the agricultural sector. The agrochemical industry – including multinationals such as Dow, Aventis and Rhone Poulenc -- have had a long history of placing staff at the World Bank. Now these staff exchanges are conducted through the Share program. "In a sense the Share program is nothing new," says Environmental Defense's Rich. "It's a very insider practice."

Asked how pesticide companies help the Bank live up to specific commitments such as improving its work on Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Ramprasad says specific concerns such as this are best left to the Bank's rural development unit.

"They have constant discussions back and forth with the private sector and the farmers," she say. "We've got people from Aventis and Rhone Poulenc, too."

Yet NGOs which monitor the Bank's agricultural policies believe the staff exchange program should do more to reflect the Bank's stated policy objectives, including those which address environmental sustainability.

"Partnerships with pesticide companies create a major conflict of interest and undermine the credibility of the World Bank's stated commitment to funding purchases of chemical pesticides only as a last resort," says Jessica Hamburger, a project coordinator with Pesticide Action Network North America.

Converging Cultures
Bank energy planners who have participated in the Share program in particular appear to be affected by a kind of creep towards corporate culture. Jayme Porto Carreiro, a Bank Senior Energy Planner, describes his experience at Electricité de France (EDF), where "I was to drop everything and manage the purchase of London Electricity (LE), a large power distribution company in England." Facing a need to get approval from the EU's competition commission, "my experience as Bank staff proved invaluable. I did what any of my colleagues would have done. I instructed the lawyers to tell the European Commission to change its laws. I won't pretend it was easy, but we did persuade the EU to do just that -- moreover, to do it in less than a month."

Despite conflict of interest rules, once seconded to a multinational, Bank officials are free to put their experience to work in the companies' interest. As Donal O'Leary, a senior power engineer at the World Bank, explains, "because of my experience working on dam projects for the World Bank, Siemens AG nominated me to support the work of the World Commission on Dams as part of my responsibilities in Germany. My involvement in the Commission's activities have taught me that its work is unique. ... The Commission membership was carefully balanced to represent all sides of the dams debate."

But NGO watchdogs question if Bank officials are clear about what "side" they represent once they return to the Bank from such an experience. "The main problem is the kind of incestuous thinking this program perpetuates," says Patrick McCully of the International Rivers Network. "They'll inevitably be thinking of projects that include contracts that companies like Siemens and Electricité de France want to bid on, and technological solutions that only the multinationals are into. Smaller scale ways of generating electricity or reducing demand are going to be less attractive."

Some of the Share program's partners are involved in many of the most controversial projects on the Bank's docket. For instance, ExxonMobil is the leader of a consortium seeking Bank approval for a major pipeline in Chad and Cameroon [see "Fueling Strife in Chad and Cameroon," Multinational Monitor, May 1997] and Electricité de France is a major player in the Nam Theun 2 dam proposed for Laos [see "Damming Laos, Damning the Poor," this issue].

Critics' complaints notwithstanding, Bank officials say they have seen the future, and Share is at its center. "In the end, the almost 5 billion people who live in emerging economies deserve the benefits that an effective global development partnership can provide," says Wolfensohn.

As the Bank functions as a partner with multinational corporations through its International Finance Corporation, pushes for an expanded role for the private market through its structural and sectoral adjustment loans, and generally blurs the public-private sector distinction, perhaps it should be no surprise that the distinction is becoming hazy even when it comes to Bank staffing.