Export credit agencies: the case of Atradius

Export credit agencies (ECAs) are a key actor in facilitating global capital flows. On behalf of national governments, ECAs offer insurance, guarantees or credit to domestic companies to cover the risks of doing business abroad. By doing so, ECAs help companies mobilise finance for their business. ECAs are the largest source of public financial support for projects in developing countries.

The Dutch ECA, Atradius Dutch State Business (Atradius DSB), underwrote more than E15 billion in 2014 alone – public support for a huge sum of private money that should be advancing the Dutch government’s goals of inclusive, sustainable development. Instead, many projects guaranteed by Atradius DSB are associated with severe environmental destruction and human rights violations. In collaboration with local partners, Both ENDS monitors the impacts of Atradius DSB-supported projects, and presses the Dutch government and Atradius DSB to improve its practices and policies.

Suape, Brazil     

One such case involves communities around the Port of Suape in north-eastern Brazil. The livelihoods of people in the area have been devastated by pollution and destruction of the marine ecosystem thanks to a port expansion project designed to accommodate large oil tankers. Since 2012, Both ENDS has supported local fishing and farming communities to organise and claim their rights, including regaining access to the harbour’s natural resources.

In 2015, Both ENDS and FGG Alliance partner SOMO supported local partner Fórum Suape in formulating a formal complaint to the Brazilian and Dutch National Contact Points (NCPs), which are tasked by their respective governments to handle complaints against companies accused of failing to adhere to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The complaint has been submitted by the Fórum Suape, the human rights organisation Conectas, and the Z8 Fishing Colony in Brazil, and by Both ENDS in the Netherlands. It targets the Dutch dredging company Van Oord as well as Atradius DSB, which provided insurance to two dredging projects of this company for the Suape port. The complaint documents the lack of consultation with local communities, the loss of their traditional way of life and livelihoods, and severe damage to biodiversity and ecosystems as a result of dredging in and around the harbour.

In a first positive step, the Brazilian NCP accepted the complaint against Van Oord and the Dutch NCP accepted the case against Atradius DSB, marking the first time that an NCP has agreed to accept a case against an ECA. The groups participated in meetings with both NCPs, which will now bring the parties together and facilitate mediation.


Depending on the Suape port authorities, the complaint has the potential to lead to concrete improvements for the Suape communities. Fórum Suape and Both ENDS are arguing that the companies should provide compensation, mitigation, and remediation for damage caused to both the communities and the environment.

The outcome could contribute to broader guidance for the Export Credit Agency sector on human rights due diligence and other responsibilities as laid out in the OECD Guidelines.

The Suez Canal

The Suape case is just one of many in which Atradius DSB failed to adequately screen the companies and projects it supported. Throughout 2015, Both ENDS closely monitored the role of Atradius DSB and Dutch dredging companies in a project to expand the Suez Canal at breakneck speed. Just three months after the Egyptian President announced the massive expansion plan, the Dutch dredging companies Van Oord and Boskalis were working round the clock on the project. While their application for insurance from Atradius DSB was in process, international media reported that the Egyptian army had already destroyed 1,500 homes and forcibly evicted 500 families to make way for the expansion.

When Both ENDS requested to see the project’s Social and Environmental Impact Assessment  – a standard procedure for considering the social and environmental effects of proposed high impact Cat. A projects – Atradius DSB in the end responded that such information was not available, while nevertheless an export credit insurance policy had been issued.

Both ENDS and SOMO collaborated to research and analyse the conduct of the ECA and the dredging companies in the Suez case with respect to norms for responsible business conduct, specifically the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The resulting study, which found ample evidence of their failure to meet international social and environmental standards, is due out in 2016.

Atradius and tax avoidance

In the report Shady Dealings, published in December, Both ENDS looked at Atradius DSB from another perspective: the dubious tax strategies of business partners of Dutch companies it supports. The report found an absence of Atradius DSB due diligence to exclude the presence of tax avoidance, aggressive tax planning, or eventual money laundering activities in relation to a number of recently supported transactions. By failing to adequately screen companies, Atradius may thus be linked to the undermining of the ability of countries to collect vitally important tax revenues. It is yet another piece of evidence that should convince policymakers to ensure that ECA support is directed exclusively toward businesses that play a positive role in development

Shady dealings


Development Banks

World Bank Safeguards

Publicly-funded development banks like the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the Dutch FMO play a key role in financing projects in developing countries, with the goal of fostering economic growth. Most development banks have social and environmental policies in place.

But rarely do these policies translate to positive outcomes for local people, many of whom are engaged in desperate efforts to resist large-scale projects funded by development banks.

FMO and the Barro Blanco dam

#BarroBlanco dam

Both ENDS continued to support the NgäbeBugle people, an indigenous tribe in Panama which is opposing construction of the Barro Blanco dam. The dam, which was financed in part by FMO and the German development bank (DEG), would submerge the Ngäbe-Bugle’s homes and sacred sites.

In 2014, Both ENDS and FGG member SOMO supported partner Movimiento 10 de Abril (M10) in filing a complaint with FMO and DEG – the first ever under their new joint grievance mechanism – for funding the project.

In April 2015, the mechanism’s independent panel issued its long-awaited report, confirming that the banks had violated their own policies by approving the loan before sufficiently appraising the risks to indigenous rights and the environment. Despite the report’s supportive findings, FMO failed to 

take serious action, citing the Panamanian government’s temporary suspension of the dam’s construction. In June, a representative from M10, co-hosted by Both ENDS and SOMO, took the communities’ cause directly to representatives of the banks and the Dutch and German governments, meeting with them in person to urge them to divest from the project and help put a definitive stop to the dam. Both ENDS and its allies are using the experience of the Barro Blanco case to push FMO to adopt a stronger accountability system.

Financing coal power in Senegal

In Senegal, Both ENDS is collaborating with partner Lumière Synergie pour le Développement to support communities outside Dakar

which are resisting construction of a coal-fired power plant. The plant is being financed by several development banks, including FMO. Both ENDS works together with LSD to set up a network of Senegalese NGOs with the aim of improving policies and practices of development banks active in the country. The network aims to work together with other NGOs across Africa to improve civil society engagement with development banks, mainly the African Development Bank and the World Bank.

A short video Both ENDS produced about this issue:


Banks and biodiversity offsetting

Suppose a proposed development project – perhaps a mine or a dam, or the road needed to get there – would erase what is now a fragile habitat, which would mean the demise of unique species of plants and animals. Fortunately, a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment (a key tool for banks to assess the impacts of a project before making a decision about investing) would flag the problem. The information should trigger serious consideration of whether the project should go forward, or how it could be adapted to avoid or mitigate the damage.

Under a new scheme called biodiversity offsetting, there is an easy way out. The problem doesn’t have to be solved: a life here can simply be traded for a life there, as if taking away your dog could be ‘offset’ by giving your neighbour a fish. The idea may sound farcical, but many development banks, including the European Investment Bank, are considering it as a way of dealing with the negative impacts of the projects they fund.

In May, Both ENDS participated in a fact-finding mission to Mongolia, the first country with legislation that requires biodiversity offsetting. Together with staff from Mongolian partner Oyu Tolgoi Watch and three other NGOs, Both ENDS set out to learn about implementation of the Mongolian law and implications for environmental conservation in the country. They met with the Environmental Ministry and nature conservation organisations in the capital, then headed to the South Gobi, the site of the massive Oyu Tolgoi mining project, which has received financing from the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.


The group met with local officials, staff of the area’s nature reserves, and herders who have been adversely affected by the mine. In a detailed report, the mission’s participants described institutional conflicts and a troubling lack of government capacity around implementation of biodiversity offsetting. The report also questioned the feasibility of Oyu Tolgoi’s offset activities, which lacked proper baseline studies and failed to address fragmentation of the habitat of endangered species and the impacts of mining infrastructure on grasslands. The fact-finding mission represents important on-the-ground evidence of the problems behind biodiversity offsetting, and the risk it poses as a false solution to mitigating adverse impacts of development projects. Both ENDS wrote an article for Dutch magazine Vice Versa about the issue. 

A publication Both ENDS produced about this issue:

Mongolia brochure


Trade and Investment

International trade and investment agreements do a lot to determine the conditions under which global capital flows. Such agreements should contribute to economic growth and employment. Instead, their focus is often on lowering the bar on social and environmental regulation and protecting investors.


Investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism

In 2015, Both ENDS contributed to a vitally important debate around international frameworks and rules for trade and investment. Much attention was given to the Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism (ISDS), which is part of many bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and free trade agreements. ISDS allows foreign companies to demand financial compensation for ‘unfavourable’ government regulations. What’s worse, companies can bypass domestic law and take their claim to an international court of private arbitrators who are neither democratically elected nor appointed.

In cooperation with Fair, Green and Global Alliance partners, Both ENDS participated in several public events and awareness-raising efforts around ISDS, particularly in relation to its proposed inclusion in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US).

BIT brochure

When the European Commission proposed an Investment Court to replace ISDS, Both ENDS teamed up with allies in the Seattle to Brussels network to publish a critical analysis of the proposal, which doesn’t address the fundamental problem: giving foreign investors the right to sue states for democratically decided laws.

Similarly, in the aptly named report To change a BIT is not enough, Both ENDS argued that mild reform of BITs, which include ISDS, is not enough to ensure that they contribute to poverty reduction, inclusive growth and sustainable development – elements of the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

x-defaultBoth ENDS also played an important role in the collaborative civil society effort around TTIP, making sure that European and Dutch policymakers understand TTIP’s potential impact on developing countries. A bilateral agreement between the EU and US would mean a loss of trade preferences for developing countries, which could severely affect their economic growth. TTIP will also serve as a model for future agreements, so its content has far-reaching implications for all countries.

Both ENDS at the WTO Ministerial Conference 


In December, Both ENDS accompanied the Dutch delegation to the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Nairobi as an official adviser from civil society. Both ENDS monitored negotiations and conveyed civil society perspectives on key issues, such as the importance of preserving domestic food security programmes which benefit small farmers and producers, to Minister Ploumen (Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation) and the European Commission delegation.

Another key intervention was made earlier in the year when Both ENDS joined more than 130 NGOs in calling for a permanent exemption for least developed countries from WTO rules on intellectual property rights related to pharmaceuticals. Both ENDS helped succeed in securing Dutch support for the initiative and drawing attention to the broader problem of intellectual property rights for the world’s poorest countries, which are in sore need of access to affordable technology. In November, WTO members agreed to extend the exemption.


An overview of our capital related projects

This is a short overview of the titles, the funders and the project partners of capital flows related projects Both ENDS worked on in 2015.

NAME OF PROGRAMME: Fair, Green and Global Alliance

FINANCED BY: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS)

ALLIANCE PARTNERS: ActionAid Netherlands, Clean Clothes Campaign, Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), SOMO, TNI (the Netherlands), Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) and FoE Europe (FOEE) PROJECT PARTNERS: Fórum Suape Espaço Socioambiental (Brazil), ILSA (Colombia), Development Institute (Ghana), Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Madhyam (India), Mining Zone People’s Solidarity Group (India /USA), M-10 (Panama), Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (Senegal), JVE (Togo / Benin), NAPE (Uganda), Seatini (Zimbabwe).

NAME OF PROJECT: Investing in land and water: turning new climate finance mechanisms into tools for cooperation (CCMCC research programme)

FINANCED BY: NWO, UK Department for International Development (DFID)

PROJECT PARTNERS: UNESCO-IHE, LEI Wageningen UR (the Netherlands), ECFF, HoAREC (Ethiopia), Aksi!, Brawijaya University (Indonesia).

NAME OF PROJECT: European ECA Campaign


PROJECT PARTNERS: FERN, ECA Watch network (international).

NAME OF PROJECT: Challenging ECA’s hidden role in fossil fuel sector

FINANCED BY: KR Foundation

PROJECT PARTNERS:  GreenID (Vietnam), Fórum dos Afetados pela Indústria do Óleo e Petroquímica no Entorno da Baía de Guanabara (Brazil), Fórum Suape Espaço Socioambiental (Brazil).




NAME OF PROJECT: Ensuring local access to the Green Climate Fund at the international and national level 

FINANCED BY: Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)

PROJECT PARTNERS: Aksi! Indonesia, Development Institute (Ghana) en Jeunes Volontaires pour l’environnement (Togo/Benin).

NAME OF PROJECT: Ensuring women access to climate finance: pilot in Indonesia

FINANCED BY: Wallace Global

PROJECT PARTNERS: Samdhana Institute (Indonesia).

NAME OF PROJECT: Development Finance for Equitable growth: enhancing dialogue between EU civil society and decision makers

FINANCED BY: European Commission

PROJECT PARTNERS: Eurodad (international).

NAME OF PROJECT: Multilateral Financial Institutions and Export Credit Agencies Program

FINANCED BY: Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

PROJECT PARTNERS: CEE Bankwatch (Czech Republic, Eastern Europe), NGO Forum on ADB (international).

NAME OF PROJECT: Democratising Energy for Development

FINANCED BY: European Commission

PROJECT PARTNER: CEE Bankwatch Network (Czech Republic, Eastern Europe), Urgewald (Germany), Re:Common (Italy), ODG (Spain), Platform (UK).


FINANCED BY: European Commission

PROJECT PARTNER: CEE Bankwatch Network (Czech Republic, Eastern Europe).

NAME OF PROJECT: Research and Analysis on Private Finance, Aid and Links to the other Finance Flows


PROJECT PARTNERS: Counter Balance (Belgium), CCFD (France), Urgewald (Germany), Jubilee South (Philippines), Bretton Woods Project (UK).