How should the Asian Development Bank engage civil society in its Safeguard Policy Review?

As the Asian Development Bank (ADB) undertakes a comprehensive update of its 2009 Safeguard Policy Statement (SPS), BIC is working with our partners in Asia to push the ADB to improve its safeguards to meet the highest international standards. To do so, ADB must prioritize input from civil society and project-affected communities.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is conducting a comprehensive review and update of their 2009 Safeguard Policy Statement (SPS). At the time of its adoption, many considered the SPS to be particularly strong when it came to protections for communities and the environment, especially in comparison to the policies at other Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). However, in recent years several MDBs have updated their safeguards framework and expanded protections and considerations for issues related to stakeholder engagement, labor and working conditions, climate change, supply chains, disability, Indigenous Peoples, sexual orientation and gender identity, and sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEA/H). A Corporate Evaluation of the SPS published in May 2020 by ADB’s Independent Evaluation Department (IED), found that, among other things, ABD needs to modernize the policy in accordance with recent updates at other MDBs, create specific requirements for public and private sector operations, and introduce a new safeguards implementation framework. ADB Management endorsed the IED recommendations and has initiated the update process, which is set to conclude in September 2022. 

The review process will take place in three phases. In the first phase from June 2020 to May 2021, ADB will finalize the Stakeholder Engagement Plan (SEP) and communications plan (a draft SEP for consultation was shared on April 9, 2021 on the ADB website), and identify issues of concern and stakeholder networks. During the second phase from May 2021 to January 2022, ADB will conduct issue-based series of consultations and stakeholder outreach as well as discuss the findings of the analytical studies they plan to conduct. In the final phase from February 2022 to March 2023, ADB will incorporate recommendations into a revised draft policy (W-paper), hold stakeholder consultations on the revised draft policy (W-paper), finalize the revised policy (R-paper), and get board approval for the revised policy. 

The ADB is holding a series of preliminary information sessions in April 2021 on their approach to the safeguard policy review and the stakeholder engagement plan (SEP).

The NGO Forum on ADB, a network of civil society organizations (CSOs) that monitors ADB and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, is convening civil society groups, including BIC, to prevent weakening and promote safeguard policies that move ADB towards the highest standards for development. Specifically, BIC and our partners in Asia will be focusing on strengthening requirements for inclusion of persons with disabilities and protections for children to prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse, along with pushing for the broad strengthening of the policy framework.

It is critical that a broad and inclusive set of civil society groups, project-affected communities, and other stakeholders be engaged in the development of the new policy. At the outset of the SPS review process, we urge ADB to take the following actions to enhance the effectiveness of this engagement and ultimately of the updated policy:   

  1. Strongly consider civil society input when finalizing the SEP. The information sessions on the safeguard review process have been useful, and we appreciate the ADB team answering and acknowledging questions and concerns raised before and during the sessions. Those participating in the session offered valuable input and comments that should be seriously considered when finalizing the SEP, particularly around consultation formats, further issues for analysis, and expanding stakeholder consultations to include the views and participation of children and young people. The draft SEP states that consultations will primarily be held online but ADB is also considering offline consultations. While acknowledging the difficulties of in-person consultations due to the pandemic, ADB must make every effort to include a wide range of stakeholders, including project-affected communities and others unable to access online consultation. Civil society input into the SEP’s strategy and methods will enhance the process and help enable the ADB to consult project-affected communities. CSOs have direct connections with communities on the ground and established channels of communication that ADB would benefit from. ADB also needs to give civil society ample time to review documents ahead of consultations and also adequate time to provide feedback, so that the discussions and input are robust and inclusive.
  2. Meaningfully consult civil society and communities. Prior to drafting the updated policy, ADB must engage with various stakeholders such as CSOs, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized groups to understand their main concerns. The experience of these groups should be placed at the center of the safeguards and the policies designed to reflect their needs. ADB should be transparent throughout the drafting process in Phases Two and Three and incorporate the input of these communities into the final policies. 
  3. No dilution of ADB’s core responsibilities. The updated safeguards policy and framework need to retain the existing protections of the 2009 SPS and enhance ADB’s accountability and oversight of safeguards implementations and outcomes. Building upon the existing protections, ADB should improve project categorization mechanisms in order to avoid miscategorization of projects, as well as applying policies to projects of other categories. Moreover, ADB must delineate compliance measures for the bank and its clients, providing clearly differentiated responsibilities for sovereign clients, private sector clients, and financial intermediaries. Finally, to promote greater transparency, ADB should prioritize the consistent and timely application of its Access to Information Policy.    

ADB has the opportunity to not only align their SPS with the environmental and social safeguards standards of the other MDBs but to be Asia’s leader on safeguards protections. Embracing the input of civil society and communities will enable ADB to “strengthen safeguard implementation effectiveness and efficiency, in ways that enhance beneficial safeguard outcomes for the environment and affected people.”[1]

[1]ADB. 2020 “Background Information Paper for the Review and Update of the ADB Safeguards Policy Statement.” Manila. p.3