Incapacity Discrimination on the World Financial institution: Is it Immunity or Impunity?

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UNITED NATIONS, April 6, 2021 (IPS) – The 15,900-strong World Bank, which has funded over 12,000 development projects worldwide since 1947, is an international institution with a tremendous reputation for continuing efforts to end poverty in developing countries – through loans, interest-free credit and direct grants.

But it has come under heavy fire because of its apparent disability violation – an area in which U.S. labor laws do not apply because the Washington-based institution enjoys diplomatic immunity.

On condition of anonymity, a spokesman for the World Bank’s Disability Support Group told IPS that the bank had been hiding behind its diplomatic immunity for decades to cover up abuse of staff, ranging from sexual harassment to institutional discrimination disabled employees is enough.

“There is absolutely no national or international framework for accountability to which the World Bank can be held accountable – neither the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities nor the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

“We have cases and irrefutable evidence of serious and consistent abuse and harassment of employees through disabilities, conflicts of interest, lack of transparency and accountability – precisely the values ​​and conditions for World Bank projects.”

Andre Hovaguimian, former director of International Finance Corporation, Middle East and North Africa, a sister organization of the World Bank, told IPS: “The World Bank’s treatment of injured employees has been and is regrettable. ”

“Employees who have been injured on duty and who take risks to conduct the business of the bank should be treated with care and respect. The bank’s diplomatic immunity should no longer be used to abuse the disabled, ”said Hovaguimian.

There are currently more than a billion people worldwide – including an estimated 800 million in developing countries – with some form of disability. This emerges from the World Report on Disability, which was jointly drawn up by the World Bank (WB) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“People with disabilities face stigma, discrimination and exclusion from access to jobs and services such as education and health care, and they consistently do less well than their non-disabled counterparts in terms of development gains,” the study says.

The discrimination charge came at a time when the World Bank is holding its annual spring meetings in Washington DC in 2021. The sessions, which started on April 5th, will continue through April 11th.

Two disabled former employees told IPS that they could only speak on condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation and lose their medical care as disabled people.

“When I was denied employee compensation for the results of five distinguished doctors, I was told that” the International Banking Group, as an international organization established under its articles of the Agreement, had certain privileges and immunities under US law . ”

“I feel discouraged, bullied and abused. It is a case of David versus Goliath, with the most vulnerable and disabled people fighting a disability program that lacks good governance, accountability or transparency. There is no justice for the disabled at the World Bank, ”he complained.

“The World Bank is evading accountability and scrutiny of its disability program by stating that it is not subject to UN conventions or US disability laws, while leaving its own board of directors in the dark.”

The other former employee, who was previously disabled, said, “I was harassed to the point of collapse. The disability program is managed in a completely arbitrary way, with secret procedures not being shared with employees but being used against them. “

“I’m really sick of the hypocrisy of the World Bank lecturing developing countries on disability inclusion while shamelessly discriminating against their own disabled people. While an independent grievance mechanism is mandatory for all projects, the WB refuses to give its disabled employees the same opportunity, ”he explained.

Credit: World Bank

A World Bank spokesman, asked for an official response, told IPS: “The World Bank Group is committed to the health and safety of our employees and their families. Our benefits, guidelines, and achievements over the years demonstrate this commitment. “

“Our self-insured insurance programs include disability and employee compensation programs that provide comprehensive benefits for employees injured on the job or for employees who are unable to work due to a disability outside of the work environment.”

“Given the company’s global presence, as well as its presence in a number of high risk environments, Bank Group made a decision many years ago to insure these benefits itself. This was necessary to ensure that all employees are insured regardless of where they are based, as some airlines may not support or have no presence in many of the markets in which the banking group operates, which are among the poorest countries in the world. “

“We regularly review our benefits and processes to ensure we are meeting the needs of employees and their families, receiving input from plan recipients and stakeholders,” added the spokesperson.

“The World Bank integrates disability issues into its global operations in a variety of sectors, including promoting access to infrastructure and social services, rehabilitation, skills development, economic opportunity creation and working with organizations of people with disabilities. This is at the core of the World Bank’s work to build sustainable, inclusive communities aligned with the institution’s goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity, ”said the bank’s spokesman.

S. Gonzalez Flavell, former special assistant (retired) to the Director General for Evaluation and Senior Counsel of the WBG Legal Department, told IPS:

“I was a disabled worker for over eighteen months under the World Bank’s self-funded Disability Program. The experience was severely demeaning and unsettling, my status was stigmatic, and numerous executives at the bank made it clear to me that my career and professional reputation would be affected.

The program lacks clarity on requirements and application transparency, and I have had to repeatedly request that the procedures be followed correctly. The Disability Administrator has taken action that would have been unlawful had any of the US Disability Protection Acts been enforced, and I was denied a copy of the program’s operating policies despite reasonable request.

The disability administrator did not act in accordance with the known disclosed program requirements and instead made arbitrary decisions without regard to my health or concern for me, my treatment plan for treating physicians, or my recovery and return to work.

The bank’s HR team, which should have overseen the actions of the handicapped administrator, consistently pretended that my health and disability could be ignored. It intrusively asked me to attend work meetings and tried to have me present for interviews (at a time when I couldn’t work). It misapplied its own performance rules (mistakenly denied 30% of the services I had to struggle through the judicial system before being corrected) and left the rules and even allowed my job to be compromised and my position to be made redundant

I was disabled (again banned under US law). Despite my health problems, I have had to take on staff to avoid financial gain and career, and to leave behind abuse that has had a significant impact on my health well-being and recovery.

When I returned to work, I knew I was exposed to many other returning disabled workers, hostility and retaliation. Every effort has been made to expel me and deny any right to reintegration into the workforce.

After the World Bank has discussed and examined several disability programs, including programs from other international organizations, including disabled people, the World Bank remains most lacking in integrity, compassion or fair treatment, and it persists in its current form is a failure Adequate care for employees, of whom it demands so much, a lack of understanding of sound management and the harsh realities that disabled employees face, and without recourse to an independent complaint system are a violation of human rights, ”he said.

Meanwhile, the World Bank Group has raised $ 82 billion for IDA19 (International Development Association, member of WBG) to support the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries with a special focus on disability

The Disability Support Group said IDA19 will do more to improve equal opportunities for people with disabilities. “Disability is therefore a major focus of this IDA19 replenishment. The World Bank seeks funding from donor countries because “Investing in people, and especially people with disabilities, who are often poor, is also crucial [sustainable development goals] Progress “(

“What the World Bank is not telling donors who are being asked to spend $ 82 billion is that the World Bank has a very poor track record, even with its own handicapped staff,” the group said.

Over the past three years there have been a record number of complaints and problems with the World Bank’s disability and workers’ compensation programs that the World Bank has conveniently ignored.

“The number of complaints has increased exponentially with both the World Bank Ombudsman and the World Bank Staff Association, which later led to additional outside lawyers being brought in to deal with the flood of complaints.”

“The rights of the World Bank’s disabled workers are being trampled upon as they are bullied and harassed when the World Bank tries to cut its own costs related to the disabilities of its workers,” the group said.

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