SPS Review Phase II: How can the ADB strengthen the 2009 Safeguards Policy Statement?

During Phase II of the 2009 Safeguards Policy Statement (SPS) review process, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is consulting with various stakeholders and will receive feedback on the weaknesses of the SPS and recommended policy directions. For the updated safeguards to meet the highest international standards, the ADB must expand protections for issues not covered in the 2009 SPS, such as stakeholder engagement, disability inclusion, child rights, gender based violence, and sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment.

In November 2021 the Asian Development Bank (ADB) began Phase II of the 2009 Safeguards Policy Statement (SPS) review process, which will run through March 2022. According to the ADB, the objective of the Phase II consultations series is to better understand the views of stakeholders on safeguards implementation challenges and good practices, in addition to their recommended policy directions. Two weeks prior to each consultation, the ADB will release background materials in multiple languages here. Various stakeholders including borrowing countries, donor countries, private sector representatives, and civil society will be able to join the virtual consultations which cover a range of topics. The ADB has confirmed it will also organize special sessions to engage with project affected communities.

From the outset of the review process, BIC and our partners in Asia have urged the ADB to prioritize input from civil society and project-affected communities so that the new safeguards meet the highest international standards. As Phase II of the review process is now underway, it is critical the ADB follow the stakeholder engagement plan (SEP), which civil society fed into, and hold their consultation series in an inclusive manner, enabling project affected communities and civil society to meaningfully engage in the process.

The SPS review is a key opportunity for the ADB to strengthen its safeguards policies and expand protections and considerations for issues related to stakeholder engagement, labor and working conditions (including around supply chains), climate change, disability, Indigenous Peoples, sexual orientation and gender identity, gender based violence (GBV), and sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEA/H). Dilution of the current protections and a failure to build upon the existing safeguards will result in a weak safeguards policy that can not effectively prevent harm or aid the ADB in achieving sustainable and inclusive development.

To align the SPS with the environmental and social safeguards standards of the other MDBs and lead on safeguards protections in Asia, the ADB should:

  1. Integrate disability inclusion throughout all safeguards requirements. The 2009 SPS has no mention of persons with disabilities. To better protect persons with disabilities from unintended project-related harms, the updated SPS must contain explicit reference to persons with disabilities, examine the disaggregated impact of projects on persons with disabilities, and emphasize the inclusion of persons with disabilities in project benefits. This requires the SPS to mandate meaningful stakeholder engagement with persons with disabilities throughout the project cycle and the inclusion of accessibility measures that projects will use within all project documents.
  2. Require the identification and categorization of projects that are high risk for GBV and SEA/H, particularly of children, and include prevention and mitigation measures in project design. The 2009 SPS does not include GBV and child SEA/H as risks in ADB-financed projects. The updated SPS needs to explicitly identify GBV and child SEA/H as potentially significant risks that should be captured in assessments and monitoring, and build in differentiated measures for preventing and responding to cases of child SEA/H versus SEA/H of adults.
  3. Enhance the child-friendliness of projects. To prevent harm to children and include them as project beneficiaries, the SPS must require the Borrower to institute child-sensitive project-level consultations and Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRMs) that allow children to come forward without fear of retaliation. Materials about the project and GRMs should be made accessible to children. Additionally, the SPS should require that all assessments look at both the direct and indirect impacts of projects on children so that the ADB is able to measure the impacts that a project has on the lives and development of children.
  4. Avoid an open-ended approach to compliance and provide oversight of projects to hold borrowers accountable. Even if the ADB chooses to move to a performance standards model, necessary due diligence and comprehensive social and environmental assessments must be conducted prior to project approval so that all risks and mitigation measures are taken into account. ADB Safeguards specialists and resident mission staff must be responsible for completing due diligence in risk assessment and overseeing mitigation measures during and after the project period.
  5. Build a stakeholder engagement process that offers safe and meaningful spaces for civil society and affected communities to share their views. In the new SPS, stakeholder engagement should inform projects from design through implementation. For all projects, a Stakeholder Engagement Plan should be required and include information about how implementers will identify all project stakeholders, target marginalized groups, share relevant project information in accessible and understandable formats and languages, consult throughout the project lifecycle, and provide a safe space to raise concerns and grievances. The SPS should also include a zero tolerance statement against reprisals, and provisions to identify contexts where civic space is restricted and prevent and respond to reports of reprisals.

To remain on par with its peer institutions and meet the highest international standards, the ADB needs to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the SPS review and expand protections to address issues the current SPS does not consider. 

While these recommendations cover a broad set of issues, BIC and our partners in the region are working closely on improving disability inclusion and child rights protections in the updated SPS. In future posts, we will delve into recommendations for these two areas specifically. For more information on BIC's work on the ADB, please visit our website.