October 10, 2023

Warren, Welch Ask Treasury and World Bank for Answers on Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse in World Bank-Funded Schools

World Bank Officials May Have Colluded to Obstruct and Delay Investigation  

Text of Letter (PDF) 

Washington, D.C. – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and World Bank Group (World Bank) Alternate Executive Director for the United States, L. Felice Gorordo, expressing serious concerns about allegations of child sexual abuse in connection with a World Bank Group member, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), project in Kenya. 

“It is our understanding that these serious allegations are currently being investigated by the World Bank Group's Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO). We are also aware of allegations that World Bank Group management may have colluded with the project owner, Bridge International Academies (Bridge), to obstruct and delay the CAO investigation. We write to seek your assurance that the U.S. Department of the Treasury and U.S. officials at the World Bank Group will take the necessary steps to ensure that these allegations are expeditiously, independently, and thoroughly investigated, that any victims of abuse are provided access to justice, and that the IFC is adopting new, effective measures to prevent child sexual exploitation across its portfolio,” wrote the senators. 

The United States is the largest shareholder of the World Bank Group, and has a substantial interest in effective governance at the Bank. The U.S. has long supposed CAO, which is responsible for investigating complaints about IFC projects, to ensure these development institutions respect human rights and operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. 

The World Bank invested in the rapid expansion of a controversial “low fee” private school network in four African countries and India, run by Bridge International Academies, in 2014. The Bank has since divested from Bridge. CAO is now investigating multiple instances of child sexual abuse perpetrated by staff at Bridge schools, and the senators expressed concerns about the conduct of the investigation: 

  • During the course of CAO's investigation, IFC and Bridge “entered into a wide-ranging confidentiality agreement that purports to cover CAO’s work,” that “was reached without CAO’s agreement or participation,” and “includes commitments from IFC that CAO will not disclose information that [Bridge] asserts to be confidential.”
  • Human rights organizations have criticized IFC for signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Bridge “binding [the CAO office] in the middle of an investigation of child sexual abuse,” and have asked IFC to “assume the litigation risk” associated with this NDA in order to provide for the full disclosure of the CAO investigation report.
  • Human rights organizations have also reportedly voiced concern that “the World Bank president unexpectedly terminated the head of the CAO” shortly after his staff “uncovered explosive child sexual abuse allegations,” and then appointed “a management insider without experience in accountability or oversight to head the office.”

Given these serious concerns and their interest in effective World Bank governance, the senators are asking Treasury and the World Bank to answer a set of questions by November 12, 2023 on these allegations and the steps each institution has taken to ensure independent investigations and accountability.