World Bank mishandled sexual-harassment claims, internal tribunal says


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Bank apologizes to women for mishandling the matter

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According to findings released by the bank’s internal labor tribunal, the World Bank failed to protect two young employees who filed sexual harassment charges against a veteran, high-ranking official who is now a presidential candidate in Costa Rica.

The World Bank Administrative Tribunal found that senior management under the bank’s president, David Malpass, and two of his predecessors did not adequately approve Rodrigo Chaves. Despite a documented pattern of harassment that lasted at least four years and involved six women, they were demoted — but not fired, according to case-related documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. .


Mr Chaves left the bank in 2019, weeks after being demoted, to become Costa Rica’s finance minister.

The labor tribunal, which serves as the judicial forum of last resort for the bank’s 12,000 employees, issued a 56-page judgment in June.

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Through his press secretary, Mr Malpass declined to comment. A spokesman said the World Bank maintains confidentiality in matters of ethics to protect staff members involved in allegations of misconduct and to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

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Jim Yong Kim, who served as President of the World Bank from 2012 to 2019, and Mr Kim’s predecessor Robert Zolic from 2007 to 2012 did not respond to requests for comment.

The bank apologized to the women for the wrong handling of the matter and said that steps have been taken to ensure that the voices of those who bring complaints about sexual harassment cases are raised.

Annette Dixon, the bank’s current human-resources chief, said, “Like many large organizations, we know we can always do better, and we must make sure we prevent wrongdoing and support sexual assault survivors.” We are taking all possible steps to do so.”

Mr Chaves denied that he sexually assaulted female partners. The complaints originated from “cultural differences and behaviors that would not be offensive to other people,” he said.

According to the tribunal’s findings, between 2009 and 2013, Mr Chaves was involved in a pattern of unwanted sexual advances and convulsions. The tribunal reviewed the testimony collected by the bank’s ethics department which included interviews of 30 witnesses. According to the findings, Mr Chaves’ actions included layering, kissing attempts, unwanted invitations to hotels and vacations, questions about personal relationships and comments on the physical appearance of half a dozen women, including bank employees, subordinates and advisers. According to testimony, two of the women involved were in their early 20s, in their first jobs and “very junior” to Mr Chaves.

A 22-year-old woman at the time told the tribunal that Mr Chaves began sexually harassing her within weeks of joining his unit as a junior aide in 2009. She told investigators that Mr Chaves commented that she liked it when she leaned in, “then proceeded to drop an object and asked him to pick it up for himself, a request she declined.”

Investigators were quoted as saying, “The harassment happened on a daily basis.”

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Mr Chaves said in response to questions from the Journal that no such incident had occurred and there were no witnesses to corroborate it.

The two women who brought the initial case against Mr Chaves said they were only “the tip of the iceberg” of the “large number of victims” in the case.

Mr Chaves replied that the World Bank and the tribunal ruled that the investigation was fair, complete and impartial.

The Staff Association, the employees’ union that protects the labor rights of employees, told the tribunal that the bank’s initial response to the allegations included a “deepening” of how to address sexual harassment at an institution that promotes gender inclusion and human development. Incorrect understanding” appears. poorest corner of the world.

In 2007, former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz left a memo sent to the human-resources vice president instructing him to arrange a pay raise and promotion for Mr. Wolfowitz’s girlfriend. Dominic Strauss-Kahn resigned as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund in 2011 following allegations of sexual assault at a New York hotel, although the charges were later dropped.

In this case, the World Bank ignored repeated complaints about Mr. Chaves’ behavior at its Washington, DC, headquarters since 2009, according to the Labor Tribunal’s findings.

A World Bank research economist told investigators that in mid-2009, after several proposals coffee, lunch or a mentoring affair, she agreed to meet Mr. Chaves for lunch. At lunch, Mr Chaves made reference to an orgy with six different animals and asked him directly if he had ever cheated or had an affair with a married man.

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She was quoted in the tribunal’s document as saying that he had answered her comments and questions by “literally staring at the plate,” “literally frozen”. […] In complete shock.”

She said she reported the incidents to her managers, who were in a separate unit from Mr Chaves, and they wrote an email requesting her to avoid subjects of an explicit nature, according to the tribunal’s report.

According to the tribunal’s document, Mr Chaves responded in an email that “Given their potentially negative effects on my reputation, relations with my family and career at the bank, his actions may be construed as threats.”

When asked by the Journal, Mr Chaves wrote that the lunch-time allegations referred to subjective perceptions of events that the woman found to be disturbing, but that there was no sexual advance or physical contact.

In 2013, Mr Chaves was promoted, Indonesia’s country manager, to a director-level position.

According to the tribunal’s ruling, in 2017, another female employee made a formal complaint about Mr Chaves to the co-chair of the bank’s newly created working group on sexual harassment, leading to an investigation by the ethics department.

In testimony, the co-chair of the working group told investigators that according to testimony, Mr Chaves’ name had surfaced as “a well-known sexual harasser” during informal staff meetings. Also in testimony, one of the women told investigators that it took her several years to formally report it, because she understood that past attempts by coworkers to report her “well-known” behavior were of no use. had not happened.

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Two years after complaining to the bank’s working group on sexual harassment, the ethics department filed its final report to the bank’s human resources unit.

In late 2019, the Human Resources Department imposed an administrative sanction, including a reduction to a non-managerial position, and a three-year pay freeze on Mr Chaves for “inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature”. The department made no mention in its decision letter of sexual harassment, which would have led to immediate dismissal under the bank guidelines. During and after the investigation the Tribunal found that the department had taken no action to protect the victims from Mr Chaves.

In its decision letter, the Human Resources Department cited vulnerable circumstances such as Mr Chaves’ “stellar” record during his more than two decades of service and his win in 2010, a Bank Award for “diversity and inclusion”. According to the timeline of the testimony received by the tribunal, at the time he won, several women had complained to senior staff about his harassment.

The staff association said in a review, “In light of the Bank’s stated commitment to address the issue seriously in recent years and sexual harassment, employees were extremely disappointed with the Bank’s initial handling of the matter.” The union declined to comment further on the matter in September.

Four months after Mr Chaves left the bank to become Costa Rica’s finance minister, the World Bank approved a $157 million loan to help the finance ministry improve Costa Rica’s tax collection and customs operations.

Disappointed by the outcome of the 2017-2019 investigation, the two employees who made the original complaint filed an appeal with the bank’s internal labor tribunal. According to the tribunal’s document, they did not ask for monetary compensation but for an explicit recognition that Mr Chave engaged in sexual harassment and that he receives a more serious sanction. He demanded that the employees themselves should get some protection. As Minister of Finance of Costa Rica, he maintained professional relations with both the World Bank and the IMF.

According to the tribunal’s subsequent report, the senior management opposed the appeal, saying women had no right to take their case to the tribunal.

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However, the staff association supported the women’s appeal, and helped them with legal fees and costs, which according to the document amounted to about $65,000.

The Staff Association, reviewing its case, said, “It is sad that the victims seeking justice for sexual harassment have been brought to the notice of the Bank after more than two years of investigation and litigation and having already endured sexual harassment within the Bank’s walls.” Facing active opposition.” .

The bank declined to comment on the staff association’s comments, citing the need to keep employees’ issues confidential.

The tribunal decided to take up the matter, which resulted in the June verdict.

The complaining employees have not been publicly identified. One of them still works at the World Bank, the other at the IMF, the tribunal’s report said.

“Our affair has been very painful and long, but we believe it was for a good cause,” two victims said.

“We have seen a change in the Bank’s position since the initial decision, recognizing that the behavior constituted sexual harassment and stepping up our defense in our specific case and currently dealing with sexual harassment,” he said. Working on a new initiative.”

The bank’s handling of the allegations took place during the tenure of former chief executive Kristalina Georgieva, the current head of the IMF. Through a spokeswoman, Ms Georgieva said she was unaware of the matter. The bank’s human resources department reports directly to the office of the president, not the chief executive.

In addition to its apology, the bank issued a “no rehire” flag restricting Mr Chaves’ access to the World Bank and informed the IMF security team of those restrictions. The tribunal also ordered the bank to cover the legal fees and costs of the women.

Mr Chaves was recently found in Costa Rica’s centre-left . was nominated by democratic Social Progress Party as its presidential candidate. Polls show he expects to get less than 5% of the vote in February’s elections.

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