The world is on the brink of the biggest infrastructure boom in history, with approximately $6 to $9 trillion U.S. annually dedicated to ever larger-scale projects. Infrastructure project funding, formerly directed toward developed states and selected emerging economies, is increasingly slated for the Global South. While these projects have the potential to lift millions out of poverty, they also constitute serious threats to already marginalized peoples. Often coupled with resource extraction, ongoing infrastructure projects tend to be located in environmentally and socially sensitive areas, including on lands inhabited by indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups. Despite existing safeguards, human rights harms related to infrastructure development remain widespread, and existing accountability mechanisms have mostly failed to provide effective redress.

Lack of transparency around the increasingly complex global financing of these large-scale projects creates a significant challenge for human rights defenders. New policy trends, backed by a global consensus and by all major public capital providers, emphasize attracting private sector funding. In catering to the private sector, such plans dramatically redefine the  paradigm on how the public relates to the private sector in such financing arrangements. A wide diversity of government and private investors and opaque rules of governance make it extremely difficult to trace individual projects back to capital providers, rendering accountability mechanisms even less effective than usual. Moreover, to date the new development finance institutions – in particular, the Global Infrastructure Facility, and the New Development Bank – have not publicly communicated means for ensuring genuine civil society engagement with the design and monitoring of these new institutions or ways of insuring that investment decisions take account of human rights.

Large-scale infrastructure projects constitute just one piece of the landscape of human rights and development finance. Taking infrastructure investment as an “entry point” was a means to focus the discussion on different sources of finance. International financial regulation of capital flows is therefore a relevant subject since these policies endeavor to increase investments in infrastructure.

The meeting brought development finance and human rights practitioners together to clarify blind spots that human rights advocates often face in the context of development finance. What ideas, plans, motivations, and investment calculi are behind the current and expected wave of mega infrastructure projects? What actors and institutions are driving this? Which ones are open to dialogue? Where should efforts be focused to ensure that human rights are adequately and effectively incorporated into these projects? This report aims to clarify the underlying issues as a step toward answering such questions.

The publication can be accessed on the website of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights.


Photo by Alain Pham on Unsplash