With the world on the brink of the biggest infrastructure boom in history, infrastructure project funding is increasingly slated for the Global South. Here the projects are often located in environmentally and socially sensitive areas, including on lands inhabited by indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups. While these projects can have great benefits, they can equally constitute serious threats to already marginalized groups. At the same time, the models for financing new infrastructure are growing increasingly complex, with the creation of new institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Global Infrastructure Facility, and a call for growing private sector involvement.
Against this backdrop, Natural Justice, Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Center of Concern, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and Inclusive Development International, with the support of the 11th Hour Project, co-organized a brainstorming workshop to bring together experts in finance, development finance, infrastructure development, and human rights. The workshop took place over two days (21-22 April 2016) at Columbia University. The purpose of the workshop was to build an understanding of the current system and projected future financial models and develop a plan for where to focus efforts in order to ensure that financers of infrastructure are accountable to international human rights standards.
The workshop served as an opportunity for people from many different backgrounds – private finance, pension funds, the UN, civil society, academics, and others – to sit together and share information and experiences on financing infrastructure. It was clear from the workshop that while so called “downstream” accountability (e.g. remedies after harm has occurred) is critical, building more accountability at the “upstream” (e.g. project design, procurement) level is equally important. Unless human rights impacts are taken into account in project design and financing, communities will always be playing catch up during implementation.