Acorn Ideas

Issue No. 26, September 2014

The Transparency Tightrope: Examining UNEP’s New Access to Information Policy

By: Kerry Ground

Meeting global expectations for transparency on capital investment projects can be tricky - especially for organizations trying to balance open disclosure with commercial sensitivity. But why strive to be transparent? What are the benefits? Multilateral organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), among others, believe that transparency is not only beneficial for accountability and engagement with stakeholders, but can also help enhance the profitability of investments in the long term.

International best practices, performance standards, and multilateral agreements between industry, investors, and governments are increasingly requiring companies to disclose information that was previously kept confidential. While not all companies operate under agreements requiring transparency policies, their partners might, so understanding these policies can ensure that corporate management systems and project activities align with these standards.

Access to Information (AI) policies help define transparency expectations. Many of the major banks and lending organizations have developed and/or regularly updated these policies in recent years as transparency expectations increase. In June 2014, the UNEP implemented its pilot AI policy; the final version is expected to be issued in June 2015 after review of experiences by UNEP secretariat, member States, and relevant stakeholders. The IFC implemented its AI policy in January 2012. Despite being developed two years prior, it appears to be more robust than the UNEP policy.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) has commented that UNEP’s AI policy is lacking in four main areas:

  • Innovation
  • Grounds for Refusal
  • Independent Appeals Mechanism
  • Accountability

The following table looks at WRI’s criticisms of UNEP’s AI policy and compares those provisions with similar provisions of the IFC AI policy.

Comparing Key Points of UNEPís and IFCís Access to Information Policies

Companies working in emerging markets where host government regulations are lacking, often look to good international industry practices (GIIPs), such as these policies, to avoid and/or mitigate unnecessary environmental and social risks and impacts. The question is, which GIIP is best to follow? In our opinion, while the UNEP AI policy is at a good starting point, it is still too vague to be useful and ensure companies benefit from following this GIIP. We would advise companies to continue looking to the IFC AI policy (and Performance Standards) for appropriately ‘risk-tuned’ policies.

Acorn International offers extensive expertise in multilateral agreements, international standards, and associated transparency policies. We often work with extractive companies to ensure operators understand these policies and are aligned with the requirements, whether required by their own agreements or by those of their partners. Having completed multiple due diligence and compliance reviews, as well as having partners in over 50 countries, Acorn International has the experience and local content needed to help companies ensure that their activities adhere to national and international standards.


A partial list of major lending institutions with AI policies includes the World Bank Group, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), etc.


Acorn Ideas

Acorn Ideas is a series of periodic papers to share ideas regarding EHSS and sustainability management for international industry.

Issue 25 -July 2014: Bouston
Issue 24 - July 2014: Land Tenure and Property Rights - Where Legal Compliance May Not Be Enough
Issue 23 - May 2014: 3 Things I Learned in Mexico - Non-technical Risks in the Oil Industry
Issue 22 - April 2014: Capacity Building on Stakeholder Engagement
Issue 21 - March 2014: Above-ground Facilities and Stakeholder Engagement: Deploying the 'CAC'
Issue 20 - March 2014: A Starting Point for Shared Equity
Issue 19 - March 2014: What It Takes to Run a Great Consulting Firm
Issue 18 - February 2014: Considering Human Rights - Trends and Lessons in Oil and Gas Impact Assessments
Issue 17 - June 2013: Managing Environmental Health in International Development Projects
Issue 16 - January 2013: Integrating Environmental and Social Performance throughout the Project Lifecycle
Issue 15 - January 2013: The State of Shale Play in 2013
Issue 14 - August 2012: Building Environmental and Social Governance in Host Countries
Issue 13 - May 2012: Human Rights and Business: A New Era
Issue 12 - February 2012: Extractive Industries Confront Pressure for Greater Transparency
Issue 11 - January 2012: Key Updates to the IFC Sustainability Policy and Performance Standards
Issue 10 - June 2011: Oil & Gas and NGOs: New Rules of Engagement?
Issue 9 - February 2010: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 8 - January 2009: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 7 - May 2008: Top Ten Lessons Learned About Health Impact Assessment
Issue 6 - January 2008: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 5 - September 2007: Results of web forum with our International Partners
Issue 4 - January 2007: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 3 - May 2006: Suggestions and tips for safe international travel
Issue 2 - January 2006: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 1 - November 2005: The Top 10 “unspoken" criteria for determining the success of EIAs


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