Repository logo

Liberal international environmental justice and foreign direct investment at the International Finance Corporation


In recent years there have been broad and important debates about whether international environmental justice is attainable within the liberal model. This issue warrants examination, particularly in a context which reflects the strongest possible potential for liberal claims. An especially potent commendation of the liberal model is found in North-to-South foreign direct investment, where liberal advocates identify investment as a key strategy to improve the life chances of the poor. However, foreign direct investment today reflects in many cases dimensions of injustice as between investor and affected populations. Such injustices arise in particular where an investment project taps into local resources such as land, air, water, precious metals, and so on without sufficient participation by affected persons in the benefits of such resource access. These sorts of inequities are especially troubling where the investor originates in one of the wealthier countries of the global North and the recipient country and affected population resides in the global South. This study attempts to then answer the question: may such injustices be remediated within the scope of a liberal model of economic activity and development? That is, can liberal prescriptions for justice be satisfied by liberal economic precepts and patterns? The study first posits a social liberal amendment to dominant contemporary neoliberal understandings. The analysis then turns to the World Bank Group's International Finance Corporation as a potential best-case example of efforts to render North-South foreign direct investment more environmentally sound. In particular, the study asks whether the policies and programs of the International Finance Corporation may be fairly seen to accommodate liberal justice precepts. Culling the existing literature, and employing evidence gleaned from documentary analysis and in-person interviews, the study asks whether the International Finance Corporation is durably engaged in advancing international environmental justice in financed projects. Through a deconstruction of International Finance Corporation documents and case studies of a purposive sample of recently-financed projects the study asks whether there is more going on at the International Finance Corporation than mere environmental window-dressing. The analysis shows that a social liberal international environmental justice is being advanced, but not evenly. The study concludes that a stronger implementation of international environmental justice is possible within the social liberal model, but that improvements are needed.


Rights Access


International Finance Corporation
social liberalism
foreign direct investment
international environmental justice


Associated Publications