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African Development Bank adopts labour safeguards

13 December, 2013The African Development Bank (AfDB) has determined that all its borrowers must comply with ILO core labour standards and other requirements protecting workers.

In adopting  "Operational Safeguard 5: Labour Conditions, Health and Safety" (OS 5), the AfDB requires that all bank borrowers comply with the ILO core labour standards, provide written information to workers about their working conditions and rights, comply with basic occupational health and safety standards, and take responsibility for the conditions of "third-party" (subcontracted) workers.

The adoption of the new safeguards culminates a four-year process to which trade unions contributed recommendations. It follows the example of the labour performance requirements adopted in 2006 by the World Bank’s private sector lending are, the IFC. While largely similar, the AfDB policy appears to put a stronger requirement on borrowers to ensure that its contractors also comply, instructing that "the borrower or client incorporates these requirements [of OS 5] in contractual agreements with its contractors, subcontractors and intermediaries". The IFC requires only that borrowers ‘use commercially reasonable efforts’.

The AfDB has announced that it will develop assessment procedures and a tracking system to enable it to monitor implementation of the new requirements.

Jenny Holdcroft, policy director at IndustriALL Global Union, says that monitoring by trade unions has played an important role in ensuring compliance with the IFC labour safeguards.

It will be important for African trade unions, the ITUC and Global Union Federations to comment on the effectiveness of the assessment and tracking procedures as they are established, and to monitor AfDB projects regarding compliance with the safeguard on an ongoing basis.

Two other major regional development banks -- the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank -- have so far taken no action to adopt a labour safeguard.