TakePart: “Is the World Bank Helping the Poor—or the World’s Banks?”
TakePart) While business-suited officials of the World Bank Group hold their annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday, activists from around the world will be on the streets outside protesting what they say is the global financier’s damaging impact on land use in the developing world. A coalition representing 235 groups, most of them from developing countries, will stage “creative resistance” actions outside the World Bank’s Washington headquarters and in nine other cities to denounce policies they say promote land grabs—mass-scale land sales to foreign investors that lead to the eviction of local farmers.
The protests target the World Bank’s Doing Business report, which ranks countries by the extent to which local regulations make it easy to start and run a business. The rankings, say protest organizers, have a powerful influence on policy makers in poor countries trying to get a leg up by encouraging them to ease regulations, benefiting foreign corporations at the expense of local populations.
“The rankings are about how easy you make it for foreign companies to set up shop in your country,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, one of the groups organizing the protests. “It encourages countries to do away with things like environmental regulations, minimum wages, and public consultations to create an environment which favors investors.”
The protesters’ concerns are driven by a recent surge in land purchases across Africa, Asia, and Latin America by big corporations, governments, and billionaire investors, especially after the 2008 spike in food and energy prices. That encouraged a rush on fertile terrain to grow food and biofuel crops. Some local governments have—with World Bank assistance, according to the Oakland Institute—facilitated these land grabs. Often they’ve come at the expense of smallholder farmers or pastoralists living or farming on the property.