World bank
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim speaks about poverty at World Bank Headquarters in Washington, April 19, 2013. REUTERS

A group of independent advisers to the United Nations have criticized the policies of the World Bank, saying it must adopt firmer human rights standards to ensure that its stated mission of global poverty reduction through economic development does not harm vulnerable populations.

“All activities supported by the World Bank, not only its investment lending, should be included in the review to ensure consistency with international human rights standards,” the U.N. advisers said in statement.

“Doing so would improve development outcomes and strengthen the protection of the world’s poorest from unintended adverse impacts of activities financed by the bank,” they added.

The group’s comments came amid its review of the World Bank’s social policies.

The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for projects that are aimed at reducing poverty, but the U.N. group questioned whether it was achieving these aims.

“Unfortunately, economic development can have negative as well as positive impacts,” said Magdalena Sepulveda, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, in a statement. “Often, the poorest of the poor do not benefit from development, or even worse, it is undertaken at their expense.”

In particular, the U.N. group said numerous large-scale World Bank projects often harm small-scale farmers, denying them access to land and food.

The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch has also called on the World Bank to improve its human rights standards.

“The World Bank needs to ensure it reaches marginalized and excluded people, with a deliberate effort to dismantle discrimination, and increase opportunities for people to take part in civic life,” said Jessica Evans, HRW’s international financial institutions advocate, in a statement.

The human rights organization advised the World Bank to support civic participation in its development projects to provide affected communities with the opportunity to express their concerns and increase oversight of such projects.

The U.N.’s review of the World Bank’s social policies comes as the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) move to establish their own global development bank.

The group of major emerging economies announced its plans to establish the bank at its summit in Durban, South Africa, last month, with India’s trade minister describing it as an institution that will have "a defining influence on the global order of this century."