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May 2015

Halting the 'race to the bottom’ in corporate conduct: Governance reform, focus on ethics must repair the damage

Christopher Colford's picture

When terms like “criminal conspiracy” and “felony” appear in confessions and plea bargains, the criminal-justice system sits up and takes notice. And when the confessed felons are some of the world’s largest corporations, the private sector ought to be jolted into action, too.

The continuing shame of confessed corporate misconduct – in this case, lawbreaking conducted with such a degree of guile that the U.S. Attorney General called it “breathtaking flagrancy” and that the FBI labeled it criminality “on a massive scale” – reached a new intensity this month: Four of the world’s largest banks confessed to taking part in a five-year-long conspiracy to manipulate the world’s foreign-exchange markets.

This latest in a series of stern legal judgments has damaged the corporate reputations of some of the world’s most pivotal financial institutions – with guilty pleas, to felony charges no less, entered by Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC and The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC. A separate guilty plea by UBS – along with earlier fines against Bank of America and HSBC in separate settlements in related cases – has brought the total of fines against those once-trusted, now-tarnished firms to about $6 billion.

The corporate confessions of deliberate lawbreaking, pursued with systematic and sinister stealth – at the very center of the international financial system – vividly validate the recent exhortation of Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund: that corporate governance must be strengthened and that a higher standard of individual ethics must prevail, especially in the financial sector.

Lagarde wisely linked skewed incentives and a short-term profit-maximization mindset to the risk of financial instability, in an eloquent recent address to the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s conference on “Finance and Society”: “There is still work to be done to address distorted incentives in the financial system. Indeed, actions that precipitated the [global financial] crisis were – mostly – not so much fraudulent as driven by short-term profit motivation. This suggests to me that we need to build a financial system that is both more ethical and oriented more to the needs of the real economy – a financial system that serves society, and not the other way round.”

Those who champion the creative potential of the private sector (including, I imagine, the regular readers of this blog) have a particular reason – one might even say, a special responsibility – to voice their anger about the foreign-exchange-rigging scandal and other acts of lawlessness.

Idealists who esteem the private sector’s ingenuity in delivering growth and jobs sans frontières know that business' creativity will be indispensable in achieving the vital development goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Society thus rightly expects that the full measure of corporate energies should be focused on companies’ central mission of generating wealth that benefits all of society. Whenever any of those energies are diverted – especially toward criminal schemes that put short-term personal plunder ahead of long-term economic growth – the lawbreakers undermine public confidence (or what little remains of it, in the wake of the global financial crisis) in the fairness of the economic system.

Moreover, lawbreakers provide ammunition to critics who allege that today’s economic system is irredeemably corrupt, through-and-through – thus making it even more difficult for law-abiding companies, holding true to the values of honest business behavior, to make the case for policies that liberate private-sector dynamism.

Carbon pricing is achieving critical mass as governments learn from one another

Thomas Kerr's picture
 
 Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, speaks on a panel with the president of Japan's New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organization and the CEO Peugeot Brand. Business & Climate Summit 2015
Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, speaks on a panel at the Business & Climate Summit with the president of Japan's New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the CEO of Peugeot Brand. 


Over the past two weeks, hundreds of global business and government leaders meeting in Paris and Barcelona demonstrated the growing support for ambitious climate policies.

At the Business & Climate Summit in Paris, François Hollande, the president of France, echoed a key message from the private sector in his keynote address, saying, “Carbon pricing is essential to move to a low-carbon economy.” Business leaders repeatedly asked governments to put a price on carbon to enable them to scale up investment in low-carbon solutions. Eldar Saetre, chief executive of Norway’s Statoil described a carbon price as “the single most efficient measure.”

The messages carried into Barcelona and Carbon Expo the following week, as market traders and officials from from multinational companies and governments discussed carbon pricing tools and options to finance a transition to sustainable economic growth. The Expo saw a 30 percent uptick in attendance this year, due in part to the growing interest in carbon pricing and the upcoming climate negotiations. The World Bank Group released its Carbon Pricing Watch, reporting that about 40 national and over 20 sub-national jurisdictions, representing almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, are now putting a price on carbon. Carbon pricing instruments have increased their coverage threefold in the past decade and now represent 7 gigatons of CO2. 

A learning journey
 
With the growth of carbon pricing instruments and rising interest from the private sector, governments are increasingly learning from one another and experimenting with different carbon pricing solutions. Whether they use taxes or emissions trading systems, there is now an emerging evidence base of how to successfully price carbon. Three jurisdictions are leading the way: the European Union, California and China.

Do better roads really improve lives?

Eric Lancelot's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية | Português

How can improved roads change peoples’ lives? How much do people benefit from road projects? Answering these seemingly simple questions is, in fact, much trickier than it appears.

We recently concluded an impact evaluation to measure the socio-economic impacts of World Bank-financed municipal road improvements on poor rural households in the state of Tocantins, Brazil. After 10 years of study, what were the results and lessons learned? And how did we go about conducting the evaluation?

The study followed a methodology traditionally used in impact evaluations in the social sector and was based on a precedent in Vietnam. Throughout the state, one of the least-developed and least-populated in Brazil, most municipal roads are unpaved with inadequate maintenance. The World Bank’s municipal roads project helped construct 700 concrete bridges and 2,100 culverts crossing rivers and streams, providing year-round access to remote populations that once couldn’t access municipal centers during rainy season.

The anticipated result chain of the project was as follows: improvement of physical accessibility would contribute to increase travel demand to markets, schools and health services. This would, in turn, contribute to improved education, better health and increased business opportunities. Finally, it would result in long-term household income growth.

Our study aimed at measuring these impacts through a “difference in differences with matching,” a method that compares a treatment group (population benefiting from the interventions) and a control group (population that does not), while ensuring similar socio-economic characteristics (or comparability) between groups. An “instrumental variables estimator” was then used to confirm the robustness of the results.

The results show positive socio-economic impacts to rural residents, as well as provides for several policy implications:

Partnering to Make Investment Climate Reforms Happen for Development

Kaori Niina's picture


In the spirit of working together to help developing countries reap the benefits of investment, the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) joined forces to make investment climate reforms happen on the ground. In a high-level roundtable event, which took place in the context of the recent WBG Spring Meetings, the two organizations announced their partnership by acknowledging the clear synergies that exist between their respective work programs - namely the OECD’s updated Policy Framework for Investment (PFI), and the diagnostic tools, technical assistance, implementation support and financing instruments provided by the WBG’s Investment Policy and Promotion (IPP) team

The Growing Importance of Investment for Developing Countries
 
For the past three decades, the private sector has served as the main driver of sustainable economic growth, employment and poverty reduction around the world (World Bank Group 2015). In particular, private sector investments have been powering international trade and the world economy as a whole. According to  UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2014:
 
  • Between 1990 and 2013, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows increased at an exponential rate - growing eight-fold from $208 to $1,452 billion.
  • Today, more goods and services reach consumers through the sales of foreign affiliates than through exports. While in 2013 the dollar value of global merchandise exports was $18.8 trillion and commercial services $4.7 trillion, sales of foreign affiliates reached $34.5 trillion.
  • Meanwhile, international production is continuing to expand; between 2012 and 2013, it rose by 9 percent in sales, 8 percent in assets, 6 percent in value added and 5 percent in employment.

 
These figures shed light on the vital role that foreign direct investment can play in linking a country’s domestic economy to global value chains. Not only does FDI bring investment and jobs to a country, but also increased exports, supply chain spillovers, new technologies and enhanced business practices. In sum, investment is a key vehicle for developing countries to leverage the world economy for domestic growth.
 
Building the Foundation for Future Collaboration
 
Realizing all the potential benefits of FDI requires the clear and effective implementation of investment strategies and policies that respond to the realities and aspirations of a country. To attract, retain and maximize the benefits of different types of FDI, developing countries need to establish a favorable investment climate, and for that they need our assistance. International organizations must strive to cooperate with one another and provide more effective, coherent and relevant support in leveraging investments to help countries better connect to the world economy, which is so critical for development, especially given the complex changes in global trade and investment patterns.

​Five secrets of success of Sub-Saharan Africa’s first road PPP

Laurence Carter's picture
A view of the Dakar-Diamniadio toll road.

Why is Senegal’s Dakar-Diamniadio toll road, which opened on time and on budget in August 2013, so successful? The road has dramatically improved urban mobility around Dakar, reducing commute times between the city and its suburbs from two hours to less than 30 minutes.  
 
Building on this positive experience, in 2014 the Government of Senegal awarded a further concession to extend the motorway to connect it to Dakar’s new Blaise Diagne International Airport. Excluding South Africa, this is the first greenfield road PPP in sub-Saharan Africa. What lessons can we draw? 
  1. Political commitment. The Government of Senegal set the project as a priority. The first driver on the road was the President – who paid the toll. But commitment alone isn’t enough; it needs to be turned into action by government agencies. An intra-agency coordinating committee was set up. The National Agency for the Promotion of Investments (APIX) oversaw the preparation of the concession. The Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) supported APIX with technical assistance, including the design of a framework for the oversight of the project.
  2. Toll plaza along the road
    Consensus-building and stakeholder engagement.  Part of PPIAF’s US$250,000 grant to the Government of Senegal helped to pay for seminars with stakeholder groups to discuss structuring options for the road and socio-economic drivers of the willingness to pay. The final structure chosen involved a relatively low toll, with an upfront contribution by the government to the cost, with the concessionaire taking full construction, operating and traffic risk. The combination of careful outreach to stakeholders, a fairly low toll, significant time savings and a well-maintained road meant that the first toll road in the country was accepted by the population. In addition, the fact that there is a free alternative road helped the Government and other stakeholders point out that motorists could always choose to use the other route.
  3. Experienced concessionaire with strong commitment to Senegal. The concessionaire, the Eiffage Group is one of Europe’s leading construction and toll road operating companies, with a long history of involvement in, and commitment to, Senegal. Eiffage, through the special purpose company set up to construct and operate for 30 years the road, SENAC S.A., ensured that the road was constructed and is being operated to a high standard, on time and within budget.  

Friday round up: Visualizing financial inclusion, food insecurity, behavioral economics, poverty among urban children, and citizen well-being

LTD Editors's picture
The Guardian's Global Development Professionals Network blog has created visualizations using Global Findex data.
 
The FAO finds in its 'The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015' report that 795m people are undernourished globally, down 167m over the last decade, and 216m less than in 1990–92.
 

Getting to 100% renewable: dream or reality?

Oliver Knight's picture
© Abbie Trayler-Smith Panos Pictures UK Department for International Development via Creative Commons
​Attending the Future of Energy Summit last month, an annual event hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, I was struck – for the second year running – by the rapid pace of cost reductions and innovation happening across the clean energy spectrum. With the news that a recent solar photovoltaics tender in Dubai obtained bids at less than US6c/kWh, to major investments in electricity storage and electric vehicles, to increased interest in demand-side management at the grid and consumer level, the message is clear: clean energy has most likely reached a crucial tipping point that will start to suck in increasing levels of investment. Some commentators also noted the opportune timing: with capital investment in upstream oil production sharply curtailed due to falling global prices, there is potentially a lot of financial capital looking for a home.
 
But perhaps one of the more interesting messages was the one coming from progressive regulators here in the U.S. The head of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, noted that with renewable energy already supplying 40% of the state’s electricity a few days last year, the target for 50% renewables by 2030 is “not really a challenge”. Perhaps more interesting, he seemed very relaxed on reaching 100% renewables at some point in the future, on the back of strategic generation placement, transfers to neighboring states, and embedded storage. And note that we’re not talking about large hydropower here, which supplies between 6-12% of California’s electricity and is unlikely to increase.

The employment outlook for Nigeria

Olu Ajakaiye's picture

Nigeria has posted good growth numbers in recent years, but these have not translated into jobs. The government is aware of this challenge and has undertaken steps to improve the condition necessary for employment to improve. Key to this is the development of a downstream manufacturing capacity, benefitting from the country’s strong position in oil and gas. Professor Olu Ajakiye discusses the outlook for the country’s jobs market and the challenges it faces. 

How we can feed the world: Interview with Ethel Sennhauser

Kalyan Panja's picture
A climate-smart farm in Kenya. © V. Atakos/CGIAR


Editor’s note: Kalyan Panja was the grand prize winner of our first Spring Meetings blogging contest. His winning post covered two events related to food and agriculture. His prize was the opportunity to interview Ethel Sennhauser, the World Bank’s director of agriculture. 

What is the most striking crisis in the agricultural sector that needs to be addressed urgently?

The world needs to feed 9 billion people by 2050 — but climate change, declining soil health, and overstretched resources could drive down agricultural productivity in the long run. Droughts and extreme weather events are already having a negative impact on farming and productivity. In the future, yields could drop by more than 25%.

Global Daily: U.S. GDP contracts in first quarter

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture

Financial Markets

Oil prices rose on Friday after U.S. crude inventories dropped for a fourth consecutive week.  Wildfires in Canada, which knocked out 10 percent of its oil sands output, also supported prices.  Oil saw sharp falls earlier this week amid a strengthening dollar.  Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up $1.87 cents (or nearly 3 percent) to $64.45 a barrel, while U.S. crude, also known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), rose $1.60 (or 2.8 percent) to $59.28.


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