BIO's response

BIO’s response to the article by Mr Raphael Meulders, Feu nourri contre la société publique BIO, published in La Libre, 15 June 2022

16-06-2022

BIO's response

15 June 2022, the newspaper La Libre published a long interview with Mr Amaury Ghijselings from CNCD-11.11.11, the umbrella of French-speaking NGOs in Belgium. The interview, entitled Feu nourri contre la société publique BIO, is a fundamental and vicious criticism of BIO’s mission, which is to support the development of the private sector of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

BIO is an investment company held by the Belgian State, our investment tools are therefore public and come from the Belgian ministry for Cooperation. In this context, we encourage and appreciate any critical look at our work that aims to improve the execution of our mission.

Since its creation in 2001, BIO is supervised by a Board of Directors that represents different political views and also has two Government Commissioners as members. Furthermore, we are supervised by the Court of Audit and report to the Federal Parliament. We also have internal tools to measure the development impact of our projects, and we comply with international social and environmental standards. Each year, we undergo an external evaluation by an independent expert on development questions in the private sector. All of this allows us to guarantee that the company respects its mandate to invest in the development of the private sector to the best of its abilities and as transparent as possible, in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With regard to the arguments put forward in the article in La Libre, we particularly contest that BIO would do “more harm than good for development“. The accusation that financial return is more important than our pursuit of real social and environmental impact is wrong. Development impact is the primary goal of all our investments: the development terms and indicators, as well as the expected environmental and social progress, are agreed upon with the client and included in each contract. Concerning financial return, BIO expects the financed company to generate 5% on average, to show the long-term viability and durability of an entrepreneurial project. If such a project is not economically sustainable, it’s evident that the project will not have a permanent impact on development. Finally, on the topic of BIO’s returns: in the last ten years, an average annual profit of 1% has been generated, in line with our shareholder’s expectations. This is far from the 10% mentioned by our detractors.

On the level of BIO’s portfolio, we indirectly finance hundreds of thousands of SMEs in developing countries. We make sure the interests of local communities are properly assessed and taken into account, while paying attention to avoid all types of land grabbing and assure decent labour conditions in our projects.

Really, the fundamental question asked in the article is whether the private sector has a role to play in sustainable development. BIO’s mission is based on the conviction that it does. It’s not a “neoliberal vision” but common sense: 90% of all jobs worldwide are created and maintained by the private sector. In most developing countries, it’s the private sector that generates the large majority of fiscal returns that allow states to provide public services such as education, healthcare, access to infrastructure, etc. A more important question would be on how we can direct this driving force as much as possible towards contributing to the SDGs.

Finally, to achieve its mission, BIO has a keen interest in an open dialogue and cooperation with the NGOs and civil society. That’s why we have reinforced our efforts to engage: a couple of months ago, for example, we organised a workshop with the NGOs on priority subjects in development cooperation, such as gender equality and decent work. Other workshops are foreseen in the next months on climate financing, agriculture and food security as well as decent wages. We are delighted at these discussions, as they allow for an exchange of ideas in an undisturbed manner with our stakeholders, for innovation and collaboration on the best way to contribute to the SDGs.

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