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In 2014 the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would take between US$5 to $7 trillion per year, with an investment gap in developing countries of about $2.5 trillion annually. The financing gap has grown considerable as a result of the COVID pandemic. Much of the needed financing will come from domestic and international development finance institutions (DFIs ). The term ‘DFI’ includes:

  • Multilateral development banks (MDBs);
  • Other international and regional financial institutions;
  • National development banks;
  • Export credit agencies;
  • Private lenders.

DFIs also have important roles to play in the global effort to combat climate change and adapt to its effects and helping States realise the right to development.

DFIs and sustainable development

DFIs play a critical role in directly financing investments needed for the realisation of the SDGs and human rights and leveraging resources from the private sector. Investment in transport, energy, water, Information Communications Technology (ICT) and other infrastructure sectors is an important part of this effort. Furthermore, the MDBs including the World Bank Group and regional development banks play important advisory and normative roles in connection with the development of national policy, legal and regulatory frameworks.

However, in order for DFIs to effectively contribute to sustainable development, it is crucial that they take necessary measures to avoid negative impacts on human rights as defined in international instruments and compatible national laws. In this regard, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (“AAAA”) are grounded explicitly in international human rights law. They frame the contributions of the business sector to sustainable development in terms of its responsibility to respect relevant international standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, together with labour and environmental agreements.

The AAAA further encourages domestic and international development banks to establish or maintain effective environmental and social safeguard systems based on international standards, particularly relating to human rights and gender equality.

OHCHR’s work in relation to DFIs

OHCHR engages actively with MDBs and national DFIs in order to help ensure that development financing activities and policies are consistent with international human rights standards and principles, and that human rights risk information is integrated into their due diligence processes. OHCHR has worked with numerous DFIs on:

  • reviewing environmental and social safeguard policies, safeguard implementation guidelines, and sectoral strategies;
  • strengthening independent accountability mechanisms and public information policies;
  • human rights risks of mega-infrastructure projects, and developing guidance on Public Private Partnership (PPP) contractual provisions;
  • identifying and addressing human rights risks of investment projects at country level;
  • strengthening policies and procedures relating to reprisals against project-affected communities;
  • Internal human rights capacity building; and
  • strengthening access to remedy for human rights violations caused by investment projects.


OHCHR submissions

From the High Commissioner