Instead of ranking countries by their “business friendliness,” the World Bank should rank corporations according to their social responsibility.
By Jeff Furman, December 3, 2014.
The World Bank’s landmark annual publication, Doing Business, ranks countries around the world based on how well their regulatory systems serve narrow corporate interests. Typically this creates a global competition to lower public interest regulations, diminish environmental and social safeguards, and reduce corporate tax responsibilities.
There has been considerable pushback on this ranking system from civil society groups around the world. One of the critics, the Oakland Institute, invited me to provide an alternative business perspective on the Doing Business report at an event last October at the World Bank.
My co-panelists gave first-hand testimony about how this ranking system has encouraged the trend of massive private investment in farmland in developing countries. As private corporations and wealthy investors have acquired millions of hectares through such “land grabs,” thousands of small-holder farmers and other rural residents have been displaced, disappeared, and even killed.
At the demand of the G8, the World Bank is now developing a new project—called “Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture”—to apply the Doing Business approach to agribusiness. To his credit, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim has acknowledged that large-scale land acquisitions threaten a way of life for thousands. But unfortunately little has changed on the ground, and the Bank staff’s response to our panel was dismissive at best.
The annual Doing Business report, now in its 13th year, remains very influential. Countries have often implemented so-called reforms solely to move up in the ranking. As the chair of the board of Ben & Jerry’s corporation, I’ve seen firsthand how a high-road approach to environmental and labor standards can be good for people and the planet—as well as the bottom line.