Values in Translation: Human Rights and the Culture of the World Bank

Values in Translation: Human Rights and the Culture of the World Bank

Values in Translation: Human Rights and the Culture of the World Bank

Values in Translation: Human Rights and the Culture of the World Bank

Synopsis

The World Bank is the largest lender to developing countries, making loans worth over $20 billion per year to finance development projects around the globe. To guide its investments, the Bank has adopted a number of social and environmental policies, yet it has never instituted any overarching policy on human rights. Despite the potential human rights impact of Bank projects- the forced displacement of indigenous peoples resulting from a Bank-financed dam project, for example- the issue of human rights remains marginal in the Bank's operational practices.

Values in Translation analyzes the organizational culture of the World Bank and addresses the question of why it has not adopted a human rights framework. Academics and social advocates have typically focused on legal restrictions in the Bank's Articles of Agreement. This work's anthropological analysis sheds light on internal obstacles including the employee incentive system and a clash of expertise between lawyers and economists over how to define human rights and justify their relevance to the Bank's mission.

Excerpt

In Values in Translation , anthropologist and legal scholar Galit Sarfaty pulls back the curtain to reveal a surprising conflict within one of the world’s most consequential and controversial institutions. As the principal international institution of market-based economic development in the postwar period, the World Bank is formally charged to reduce poverty by providing credit to countries in exchange for commitments to reform and restructure national political economies, to bring them into line with the Bank’s expectations about efficiencies and the role of the state. As Sarfaty explains, this mission attracts economists, finance specialists, lawyers, and policy makers who understand the need for international institutions; however, many of them also believe that what she calls “economic rationality” should form the epistemological foundation for decision making.

But the Bank became a target for a wide range of critique and political analysis, especially over the last twenty years, and reluctance to acknowledge the broader political consequences of its lending practices was seen by many critics as a strategy to allow dominant nation-states such as the United States (which holds the largest voting bloc within the Bank and traditionally controls the presidency) to use the Bank to promote policies that ultimately reinforce the position of the world’s biggest national economies. Partly as a response to this critique, the Bank expanded its mandate to incorporate formerly excluded “political” programs that would broaden the means through which its formal goal of poverty reduction could be accomplished. These included now-well-known initiatives under the rubrics of “good governance” and “anticorruption,” which brought the Bank’s programming into areas of national politics and law that had historically been understood to be outside the scope of its Articles of Agreement. As Sarfaty . . .

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