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U.S. Supreme Court Rules the World Bank Can Be Sued for Environmental and Health Issues

Banks are not above the law, and now, individuals and groups have the right to sue the World Bank. That’s according to a 7-1 decision by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Jam Vs. International Finance Corporation. IFC is the arm of the World Bank that lends to private sector interests in developing nations.

This recent, landmark decision could make it possible for millions of individuals around the world to sue the World Bank for damages related to environmental destruction and health issues, if those issues are related to internationally funded development projects, according to reporting by NPR.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, was brought on behalf of a group of farmers and fisherfolk in the state of Gujarat, India, several of whom have the surname Jam. They allege that a coal-fired power plant, which was built with a $450 million IFC loan and came online in 2012, caused loss of livelihood, property damage, and threats to their health, issues that are related to contaminated water and its impact on fish populations. The group is represented by Washington D.C.-based legal nonprofit EarthRights International, which alleged that IFC did not take reasonable steps to mitigate the environmental harms that it predicted could occur, and that the project caused not only environmental but also social harms.

EarthRights lawyers note that now that the Supreme Court has issued a decision, the case will return to lower courts for further litigation. EarthRights also has other suits pending the outcome of this case, including a lawsuit that represents victims and survivors of alleged attacks and murders by private security forces at a Honduran palm oil planation, which had taken a $15 million loan from IFC. It is likely that case will now also move forward.