U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday nominated a private equity executive and former Mastercard CEO to lead the World Bank, drawing furious backlash from climate and anti-corruption campaigners who said the pick would ensure the key global financial institution remains a tool of corporate interests and funder of climate chaos.
Ajay Banga's employment history, touted as exemplary by the White House, was the primary source of concern for advocates who were hoping Biden would replace outgoing World Bank head David Malpass—a Trump appointee who recently came under fire for climate denial—with a public servant dedicated to combating the climate crisis, global poverty, and skyrocketing income and wealth inequality.
Before becoming vice chairman of General Atlantic—which one watchdog described as a "rapacious international private equity firm"—Banga worked at Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Citibank. Banga also served on Dow Chemical's board of directors and as chair of the International Chamber of Commerce, a powerful corporate lobbying organization.
"Nothing in Banga's resume inspires confidence that he will turn the World Bank away from a path of neocolonialism and predation by Global North corporations upon Global South countries," said Revolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser, alluding to the body's history of pushing austerity, advocating for the privatization of critical resources such as water, and financing oil and gas projects.
"Sadly, a vision that those who govern best are those that have profited the most from deregulation, economic predation, and the shrinking of the public sphere seems to be winning out in the Biden administration now. Indeed, this vision, we have argued, is what guides Biden's new Chief of Staff, Jeffrey Zients," Hauser continued. "Biden and [Treasury Secretary Janet] Yellen should be ashamed of this choice. Our message in the past was to figure out how to expeditiously fire David Malpass. Our message now is to retract this nomination and simply do better."
Collin Rees, the U.S. program co-manager at Oil Change International, said in a statement Thursday that Biden's selection of Banga is "deeply disappointing."
"This moment demands a World Bank leader who will prioritize the urgency of the climate crisis, not another Big Business executive with no experience in development, environmental work, or the public sector," Rees added. "Banga's long career at predatory banks and corporations does not inspire confidence that he would transform the World Bank into an institution that can work for people and the planet. On the contrary, it's sadly ironic that his past work as a Nestlé executive aligns with the World Bank's damaging history of water privatization."
"He represents U.S. corporations rather than the needs of 8 billion people around the world."
Since the World Bank's inception in 1944, the U.S.—the institution's largest shareholder—has chosen its leader, a "gentleman's agreement" that critics say is deeply undemocratic and partly responsible for the bank's historic fealty to corporate power.
Banga must be confirmed by the World Bank's board, a step that is widely seen as a forgone conclusion given the outsized power the U.S. wields.
Earlier this month, a coalition of civil society organizations urged Yellen and World Bank directors to push for an end to the body's "financing for fossil fuels, industrial animal agriculture, and activities that harm biodiversity."
The coalition also demanded that the World Bank reject "misguided approaches to private finance" and "regressive" policy approaches such as cuts to public services.
But advocates fear their calls for transformative changes at the World Bank will be stymied by the elevation of Banga, who "has no background in public service, mitigating climate change, promoting sustainable agriculture, reducing poverty, or supporting a just energy transition," as Friends of the Earth's Kate DeAngelis put it.
"We don't need another World Bank president who will further corporate interests like fossil fuels and industrial agriculture. The bank should be striving for just, equitable development as part of its vision and purpose to confront global challenges," DeAngelis said. "He represents U.S. corporations rather than the needs of 8 billion people around the world."