Report Details Racial Discrimination at World Bank

For Immediate Release

Dylan Blaylock
202.408.0034 ext. 137

Report Details Racial Discrimination at World Bank

WASHINGTON - Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) released a report
that investigates and finds evidence of racial discrimination against
black professional grade employees at the World Bank. The report, which
documents the treatment of these employees in recruitment, retention
and internal judicial decisions, finds that a race ceiling exists at
the institution, and that the Bank's legal system fails to address
racial discrimination adequately.

Specifically, the report
details that of over 3,500 professional grade World Bank staff
worldwide (more than 1,000 of whom are Americans), there are only four
black Americans. In addition, the report details how other black bank
staff, such as black Caribbean nationals and black African employees,
are also underrepresented.

The report, which was prepared in
response to multiple disclosures concerning racial discrimination at
the World Bank, is available on GAP's Web site here: The annexes can also be viewed here:

Africa's leading financier, the World Bank should be at the forefront
of promoting racial equality," said Shelley Walden, GAP International
Program Officer and co-author of the report. "Instead, their
anti-discrimination policies are largely cosmetic and lack effective,
impartial enforcement mechanisms. They allow black employees to be sent
to the back of the World Bank bus."

The problem is particularly
acute for black American employees. GAP found that the number of black
Americans employed in the professional grades at Bank headquarters has
decreased in both absolute and relative numbers in the last 30 years.
While the World Bank is an intergovernmental institution that cannot
focus on the specific concerns of national governments in its personnel
policies, the fact remains that an unusually large percentage of its
professional staff members are U.S. nationals, yet black American
professionals are visibly under-represented. Although the World Bank's
international status exempts it from US Affirmative Action and Equal
Opportunity statutes, such an under-representation strongly indicates
discrimination in recruitment and retention policies, a violation of a
core labor standard of the International Labour Organization of the
United Nations. Moreover, because the Bank does not regularly collect
data on racial identity, to a large extent such patterns of
discrimination in employment are invisible.

GAP's report also
documents the failure of the World Bank's conflict resolution system to
address racial discrimination issues adequately. Because the Bank is
not subject to national laws, discriminatory conduct by Bank personnel
can only be challenged internally. The standard applied by the
institution's internal court (World Bank Administrative Tribunal),
however, imposes an onerous burden of proof standard on a complainant
that favors the institution and is inconsistent with international
discrimination jurisprudence. In the past 12 years the Tribunal has
reviewed 21 cases of racial discrimination, but failed to substantiate
a single case. That record stands despite internal Bank studies that
have repeatedly found racial discrimination to be prevalent within the

When asked about the pattern of racial
discrimination in recruitment at the Bank, the Office of Diversity
Programs responded that qualified black American applicants were in
short supply. "This response seems disingenuous," said Bea Edwards,
GAP's International Program Director. "Washington, D.C., the city that
hosts the World Bank, is home to Howard University, the flagship of the
Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States."

Other significant findings from GAP's report include:

Bank studies uniformly show that Sub-Saharan African, Caribbean and
black American staff members are disadvantaged, relative to other
staff, when they pursue careers at the Bank. For example, as of 2003,
the latest year for which statistics were available, black World Bank
employees were 36.3% less likely to hold a managerial grade relative to
equally qualified non-black employees.

  • Bank data show that
    professional black staff members working on Bank operations are
    disproportionately confined to positions in the Africa Region.
  • In 1999 a U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that
    the Bank's internal grievance process was ineffective at addressing
    bias complaints and made a series of recommendations for improving the
    system's ability to address discrimination. Ten years later, it appears
    that the most important recommendation of the GAO and the Bank's own
    Review Committee regarding discrimination has not been adopted.
  • The rules of the Administrative Tribunal do not permit the World Bank
    Staff Association to file complaints contesting policies that appear to
    have a racially discriminatory impact.
  • Staff members and job
    applicants of African heritage who allege racial discrimination appear
    to be unlikely to receive the compensation or vindication they seek
    before the Tribunal. In contrast, complainants of non-African descent
    who allege racial discrimination, retaliators or Applicants claiming
    reverse discrimination have a better chance of receiving a favorable
    judgment and compensation.

To address these
issues, GAP's study recommends that the Bank record and publish its
figures on the recruitment, retention and promotion in professional
grades of all black World Bank employees, especially black Americans.
GAP also recommends that an independent review of the Administrative
Tribunal's jurisprudence regarding racial discrimination cases be
conducted, and that the Tribunal's rules be amended to allow a shifting
burden of proof. In addition, the Tribunal should allow petitions from
the Staff Association challenging discriminatory policies or a hostile
work environment. Finally, an intensive recruiting effort at Howard
University's graduate schools, and other Historically Black Colleges
and Universities, would help to address the issue practically and


The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.

Share This Article

More in: