"The day the l.M.F. says you cannot
get a loan unless you repeal all the laws
which justify aggression against women,
believe me, we will have another planet."

-- Fatima Mernissi, author of Beyond the Veil

International Development

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What is development? As it is taught in schools, development means helping people in poorer countries build up their agriculture, infrastructure and social services, including health care delivery. These projects may take place in areas where there has been armed conflict, natural disasters, famine, or extreme poverty, and are carried out by government agencies or nonprofit organizations. Many of the groups listed below are engaged in this type of development activity.

Largescale development programs, like bridge construction or dams, are typically financed by the taxpayers of the wealthier countries of the world, like the United States. The money is channeled through national agencies, such as U.S. Aid for International Development, or allocated to international funding institutions, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

However, in the case of many of these programs, there is very little (if any) oversight by the public, and decisions to fund projects may be made for reasons other than assisting the targeted populations. A country may receive a World Bank or IMF loan, for instance, for the purpose of improving its transportation system and other infrastructure so that huge multinational companies can then relocate their manufacturing plants there. The companies benefit from the cheaper labor force, as well as the lack of unions and environmental protections. They may also take advantage of special tax breaks which are often stipulated in the loan agreements. The resulting "job boom" in the poor country may not provide wages to even maintain a subsistence, while at the same time workers in the industrialized country where the plants were formerly located now find themselves without a job.

Practically, many of these schemes actually contribute to the poverty of the world. For as news reports have shown, overseas "sweat shops" boast some of the worst working conditions imaginable, reminiscent of the textile mills in the19th century. In addition, if the government has trouble repaying the loan, the international bank may force it to institute "austerity measures", which include devaluation of the country's currency (causing higher prices) and a simultaneous freeze on wages for government jobs. Widespread corruption in the handling of loans by the source country is also considered a fundamental feature of many taxpayer-funded international aid programs, and often insures that the government will default on its repayment plan.

In recent decades it has come to light that international lending institutions like the World Bank have made loans contingent on third world countries developing their tourist industries. Implicit in this design has been the establishment of prostitution districts to provide an incentive for men in western countries to visit these countries. Thailand and the Dominican Republic are examples of this trend. And because so much land has been confiscated for multinational factories and agribusiness, the evictions of peasant families from their farms forces them to rely on their female offspring to generate income, thus providing the supply of prostitutes demanded by the organized sex tourism schemes.

As a result, the number of children and women being indentured or sold into sexual slavery and exploitation since the early 1970's runs well into the tens of millions. Today, prostitution is a multibillion dollar industry integral to the economies of many countries with outstanding loans to international banks.(See our Special Focus: Trafficking in Women for links to more information).

Since taxpayer dollars fund the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other official development agencies like U.S. A.I.D., citizens of every contributing country can and should require bank officials to be held accountable for the human rights violations and plant closings which can result from their funding decisions. Such accountability would go a long way towards eradicating child labor, worker abuses, land evictions and the sexual exploitation of the poor.

In the United States, the taxpayer contribution to the international banks is administered by Congress via:

  • House Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade (House Financial Services Committee), and the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade and Finance (Senate Banking Committee).
  • Following are links to nonprofit groups, academic institutions and official aid agencies.

    Nonprofit Organizations

    Academic Institutions

    Banks, Government and Multilateral Agencies

    A presentation of Human Rights Interactive Network

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