The AfDB has approved new safeguards, but is it ready to implement them?

The Bank Information Center welcomes the updated Integrated Safeguards System (ISS) that was approved by the African Development Bank (AfDB) Board of Directors in April 2023, and calls on the AfDB to commit the necessary resources, training, and capacity to fully implement the requirements of the new ISS.

The African Development Bank (AfDB)’s first Integrated Safeguards System (ISS) was approved in 2013, becoming operational in 2014. Following an evaluation by the AfDB’s Independent Development Evaluation (IDEV) group in 2019, the ISS underwent a review involving internal and external consultations in 2021 and 2022. 

The updated ISS, approved by AfDB’s Board of Directors in April, is expected to go into effect in 2024. The new policy makes forward progress on a number of environmental and social issues, including on the priorities that civil society raised with the AfDB through the consultation process. 

  • The policy commits to “zero tolerance for reprisals, sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEA/H), gender based violence (GBV), or discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
  • The environmental and social assessment policy (OS1) directs Borrowers to consider direct, indirect, contextual, and cumulative project-specific risks and impacts, and requires an assessment of vulnerability to climate change.
  • The policy includes specific definitions and requirements to promote the inclusion of, and prevent harm to, “vulnerable groups” as well as Indigenous People and “highly vulnerable rural minorities.”
  • OS4 on Community, Health, Safety, and Security includes positive language around climate change and the provision of universal access in new construction to enable everyone, including persons with disabilities, to use the new structures, though it stops short of recognizing the increased vulnerability of persons with disabilities to climate change. Instead, it only highlights persons with disabilities a group to consider with risks related to community health or an influx of project workers. 
  • The policy includes requirements to disclose project grievance mechanisms and the Independent Recourse Mechanism (IRM) to affected communities, including for Financial Intermediary projects.
  • The policy requires risk assessment, mitigation, and response to the risks of SEA/H, GBV, child labor, or modern slavery when identified and/or a related complaint has been filed/registered.
  • The policy includes a standalone safeguard on stakeholder engagement and information disclosure (OS10) which requires Borrowers to develop stakeholder engagement plans to facilitate engagement and information sharing throughout the project cycle.

However, significant recommendations from civil society were not taken on board. One such recommendation was that there should be a separate and standalone safeguard policy for Indigenous People or “highly vulnerable rural minorities,” rather than an umbrella policy on Vulnerable Groups, due to the specific and differentiated requirements for projects impacting Indigenous People. The ISS also misses an opportunity to reduce climate pollution by failing to directly exclude  activities that contribute significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its Environmental and Social Exclusion List (OS1 Annex 3).

Based on BIC and partners’ experiences monitoring projects including the East African Coastal Corridor Development Project in Kenya, where project implementers lacked adequate knowledge of ISS requirements, civil society also remains concerned that advances in the updated ISS will not be implemented. Our experience has shown the AfDB to be slow to respond to civil society’s concerns, reluctant to address Borrowers’ noncompliance with the requirements of the 2013 ISS, and unwilling to dedicate the resources (human and financial) to provide the level of monitoring and supervision necessary to prevent noncompliance with the existing standards. The new requirements add to the need for expertise and load of due diligence, capacity building, and supervision. With this in mind, the AfDB must make a significant shift and demonstrate strong commitment to full implementation and resourcing of the new ISS, from the top levels of management to the direct engagement with project implementers. This is especially important for areas in which the AfDB will need to build its own expertise and capacity in order to meet new requirements, including disability rights, LGBTQI+ inclusion, and the prevention of reprisals and SEA/H.

As the AfDB moves toward implementation of the updated ISS: 

  • Consultation is important on supplemental guidance and requirements to be developed by the AfDB, including all Guidance Notes and planned staff Directives on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), reprisals, and SEA/H/GBV. All of these supporting documents should also be made public once finalized. Civil society have submitted input on the draft Guidance Notes and hope to see that input taken into consideration in final guidance.
  • It is imperative that there be robust training for Borrowers and AfDB staff on the new ISS, paying particular attention to new areas around social inclusion, SEA/H, and climate change assessment, among others.
  • The AfDB must strengthen its supervision role so that project documents and implementation are in line with the requirements of the new ISS.
  • The AfDB must publish a detailed timeline and action plan for training and rollout of the new ISS.
  • The Board must approve adequate resources and capacity improvements for implementing the new ISS requirements. The updated ISS represents a significant progression for the AfDB in terms of necessary due diligence, Borrower support, and supervision requirements. However, broadening the scope of the ISS in order to incorporate additional social issues, including ones that impact children, will require the development of new staff capacity, expertise, and training for existing staff at both headquarters and country offices. Without additional resources, any advances in the new policy will not be realized at the project level, perpetuating dangerous compliance gaps.
  • The AfDB should be more open and responsive to civil society and communities who  raise issues during the implementation of the updated ISS.