Bandage on a Bullet Wound – IMF Social Spending Floors and the Covid-19 Pandemic

26th September 2023

 Bandage on a Bullet Wound – IMF Social Spending Floors and the Covid-19 Pandemic

As the Covid-19 virus began to spread, shuttering businesses and upending economies, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, saw opportunity in the recovery from the unraveling crisis. Georgieva had already identified income and wealth inequality as a central challenge facing the global economy. In her view, the pandemic brought both the risk that poverty and inequality would exponentially worsen and a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to invest in recoveries that transform economies to make them “greener, smarter, and fairer.”

In speeches, interviews, and opinion pieces, Georgieva laid out a strategy for how the IMF can help governments emerge from the pandemic with more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient economies, from modernizing tax systems to make them more progressive to investing more in health, education, and renewable energy, restructuring unsustainable debt, and building stronger social protection systems. This vision—what Georgieva called a “new Bretton Woods moment”—carves out a different approach to the one the Fund took following the 2008 Financial Recession and continues a significant evolution in how it sees its role in promoting global economic stability. Although in laying out this vision, Georgieva did not explicitly reference human rights, including the IMF’s human rights obligations, the Fund’s response to the crisis has monumental significance for hundreds of millions of people’s economic, social and cultural rights.

This report analyzes 39 IMF loan programs approved between March 2020, the official start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and March 2023 under three lending facilities that include conditionalities—the Extended Credit Facility (ECF), Extended Fund Facility (EFF), and Stand-By Arrangement (SBA)—to understand how the IMF is approaching the current crisis in practice and to assess the extent to which it aligns with international human rights standards. The total population in the countries affected by these programs is more than one billion people. The report also includes an in-depth case study of Jordan, where the government has been implementing a series of IMF programs since 2012, based on over 70 interviews and a review of relevant documents and data.

Report by the Human Rights Watch