Associate Professor Susan Park, The University of Sydney. 

In 1993 the World Bank created a precedent under international law, opening itself up to being held to account by people negatively affected by the projects it finances in developing countries. It was the first time that a universal international organisation (IO) recognised that it had a relationship with individuals that could potentially check its activities. Within a decade of the World Bank Inspection Panel, the other Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) would create similar accountability mechanisms. These accountability mechanisms embody a norm of ‘accountability as justice’ that seeks to provide recourse for environmentally and socially damaging behaviour through a formal sanctioning process. The norm has spread to other development financiers including the new Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB), bilateral development agencies, export credit agencies, and private banks. How was the emergence and spread of this norm possible? Although international law scholar/practitioners have expended considerable effort mapping the differences among the MDB’s accountability mechanisms no explanation has been provided for their creation, for why they function the way they do, and whether they help people hold the Banks to account. 
This book tackles all three questions, making three central arguments: first, the United States was the primary advocate for the accountability as justice norm of during debates over how to maintain MDB efficiency and effectiveness in the 1990s. Building on its history of using ‘accountability as control’ the US sought to establish a norm of accountability as justice for all of the MDBs, to enable recourse for communities and ecosystems negatively affected by projects financed by the Banks. As the most powerful shareholder the US used its ‘power of the purse,’ its ‘vote,’ and its ‘voice’ in the Banks to garner support for the norm despite opposition from the Banks. Second, the US used these same strategies to demand the MDBs reformulate the accountability mechanisms when they proved ineffective as a result of Bank avoidance. Third, the book demonstrates that the MDBs have institutionalised but not internalised the norm. US efforts, member state oversight, and the activities of accountability mechanism officers have improved the mechanisms accessibility, transparency, independence, responsiveness to affected people, and the effectiveness of compliance investigations and Bank monitoring. Despite this, the accountability as justice norm has not disturbed the Banks’ lending imperative culture.

About School Research Seminar Series

This series brings together the School’s research community and domestic as well as international leaders in the field of politics and international affairs. Across each semester, the series showcases a diverse and exciting range of topics. We welcome anyone who might be interested in attending.

Please note that most of the research seminars are recorded and are available online.