7 June 2018

*Press release*

(Nairobi/Washington, DC, 7 June 2018). Human rights organisations welcomed the decision by the World Bank’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) to accept a complaint regarding the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s investment in Bridge International Academies (Bridge) in Kenya. The company operates over 400 so-called low-cost primary schools in Kenya that have been the focus of a complaint by Kenyan citizens, which raises concerns about violations of World Bank investment standards as well as national and international laws.

The IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank, announced on 21 January 2014 a $10 million US dollar equity investment into Bridge to support expansion of its operations in more countries in Africa. The IFC has an obligation to ensure its investments are not in breach of its own Performance Standards such as those related to labour rights, health and safety, and that they are compliant with national law.

Linda Oduor-Noah, from the Kenyan-based East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights), which supported the complaint, stated: “We welcome the CAO’s decision to take our concerns regarding Bridge’s operations seriously and accept our complaint about the IFC investment in the company. The ongoing practices we have documented need to be urgently addressed to ensure children are not left without access to proper, quality education. We look forward to the CAO’s rigorous review and hope this process will be taken seriously by the IFC.”

The vast majority of Bridge schools in Kenya lack legal registration and the company has faced numerous complaints of exploitative labour practices, discrimination, lack of transparency and failure to meet national standards for education, health and safety. Following numerous civil society meetings since 2015 with World Bank staff, and three joint statements addressing the World Bank and other investors in Bridge, EACHRights and eight Kenyan citizens filed a complaint on 16 April 2018 demonstrating grave violations of IFC standards and human rights law. The complainants are demanding that IFC act to stop the harm caused by the multinational chain.

The signing organisations welcome the CAO process. It provides an opportunity to ensure the IFC is held accountable for the problems associated with its investment in Bridge and to shed light on the company’s concerning practices. The assessment should be conducted within 120 working days. This is an important step in the efforts to hold accountable public investors in multinational school companies, such as Bridge, when the companies they invest in commit human rights abuses, and the signing organisations are committed to continue to demand justice for such cases.

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