Access to information: Is the IFC leaving communities in the dark?

The International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) inadequate implementation of its Access to Information Policy undermines transparency and makes it difficult for project-affected communities and civil society to engage with IFC projects. By proactively and consistently updating its website with timely and accessible information for all projects, the IFC can improve its disclosure practices and be more accountable to the communities it serves.

Timely access to information is critical to the success of development projects. It allows stakeholders, especially project-affected communities, to engage in informed discussion, provide input on project design and implementation, and present concerns and grievances when a project is likely to cause harm or violates the institution's environmental and social standards. At the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group’s private sector lending arm, the current Access to Information Policy has been in place since 2012. Under this policy, the IFC commits to share information about its institutional processes, policies, and projects unless that information falls under one of the policy’s 12 exceptions to information disclosure. 

For each proposed direct investment, the IFC makes project information available through a Summary of Investment Information (SII) and an Environmental and Social Review Summary (ESRS) at least 30 days prior to project approval. Project information on the IFC’s website is only available in English, making it inaccessible to non-English speakers. Additionally, the IFC does not typically list specific IFC project team members and their contact information on the relevant project pages, so stakeholders cannot directly raise concerns or engage with project supervisors. 

In practice, the information that the IFC proactively discloses is not sufficient for civil society and project-affected communities to meaningfully engage with a project. The IFC does not routinely disclose full versions of project documents for all investments on its website, relegating accountability for disclosing detailed project information, including impact assessments, to its client companies, and leaving affected communities in the dark about potential project risks. For example, in the IFC-sponsored Hidrovias do Brazil (HDB) project, the IFC failed to identify impacts on Indigenous Peoples during project appraisal, so the IFC and HDB did not apply Performance Standard (PS) 7 and the project-affected Indigenous groups were not consulted during project design and implementation. In conversations with the IFC, the IFC claimed that PS7 was applied in the project, but that was never reflected in the ESRS, nor have relevant impact studies been posted, and thus there is no way for communities to know that the IFC deemed PS7 applicable.

In BIC’s experience, the IFC also does not consistently update project statuses on its disclosures website in a timely manner, making it difficult for communities to know if the IFC is still involved in the project. For example, when BIC shared our partner’s report on the IFC’s failure to enforce the Performance Standards at the Kipoi copper mine with the IFC, we only then learned that the IFC had already completely divested from the company a year before without sharing this information with the community nor reflecting this change on their website. Likewise, complainants in a case with the IFC’s complaint mechanism, the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), discovered that the IFC had divested from the relevant investment in Titan Cement Egypt via an announcement on the Egyptian stock exchange, while the status remained active on the IFC’s website.

Limiting the disclosure of project documents, points of contact, decisions to divest, or other information that communities need to meaningfully engage with a project severely undermines transparency and leaves communities stranded. For the IFC to improve its information disclosure and be more accountable to the communities it serves, the IFC should:   

  1. Review proactive disclosure practices to add more comprehensive, accessible information to what is readily made available to stakeholders. The IFC should disclose full project documents for all investments in local languages as soon as they are finalized, including Stakeholder Engagement Plans, Environmental and Social Impact Assessments, and Environmental and Social Action Plans. Making project documents available as part of the routine information disclosure process, not just when someone submits an access to information request, can help hold clients accountable to the Performance Standards and enable communities and civil society to better engage with projects. The IFC should also review the application of exceptions to its disclosure policy and limit the use of exceptions to rare, unavoidable cases. Exceptions should not be used to restrict communities’ and stakeholders’ access to important project information. Instead, other forms of information protection, such as partial document release or redaction of the most sensitive information in a document, should be considered. 
  2. Update project pages in real time to reflect the most current project information. Project pages should immediately reflect changes in project status, new project documentation, or shifts in staff contact points. If the IFC is considering divestment from a project, it should publicly announce detailed information well before making the final decision to divest (90 days at minimum), in particular the reasons why and to which, if any, investors or lenders it will relinquish responsibility for the project. Published information should include updated Stakeholder Engagement Plans and reports on outcomes of those engagements, and reports on Performance Standards implementation, including any corrective action plans and outcomes. The IFC should share this information with project-affected people and other interested stakeholders, and update the project status on the website in real time as final details on divesting are determined.
  3. Shed light on the information request process. The information request system that communities and civil society must use to access project documentation outside of the limited information that is routinely disclosed is opaque and underutilized. In addition to routinely disclosing more documents, the IFC should publicize the information request process on project pages and in project documentation that is shared with affected communities and other stakeholders. 

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