WASHINGTON: The World Bank mishandled sexual harassment complaints brought by multiple women against a senior official, according to the bank’s labor tribunal.
The case involved disturbing reports dating back to 2009 of the official inviting young colleagues to hotel rooms, trying to trick them into kissing him, and making inappropriate comments.
The official was demoted but not dismissed from his position, according to the World Bank Administrative Tribunal, the last resort for employees filing grievances against the development lender.
It was the latest blemish on the Washington-based finance institution, after a recent internal investigation revealed officials pressured economists to alter results of its closely watched “Doing Business” report that ranked countries based on business-friendly policies.
The report implicated IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva in her former senior role at the World Bank, but the IMF board last week expressed confidence in her and said the report did not conclusively show she “played an improper role.”
The findings in the sexual harassment case, released in June, were detailed in a report Monday by The Wall Street Journal, which identified the official as Rodrigo Chaves, a candidate for president of Costa Rica who served briefly as the country’s finance minister.
“This case has brought visibility to shortcomings in the Bank’s approach to accountability for sexual harassment and protection for staff,” said the tribunal’s report, which identified the official only as “Mr C.”
Chaves denied any misconduct or attributed them to cultural differences, but the investigation, which interviewed 27 witnesses, described the pattern of “relentless and unwanted advances.”
Annette Dixon, the World Bank’s vice president of human resources, said the institution is “strongly committed to fostering a safe working environment that is free from harassment and abuse and where staff feel empowered to report allegations of wrongdoing.”
“Like many large organisations, we know we can always do better,” she said in a statement.
The World Bank in January imposed a “no rehire” ban on Chaves and barred him from the premises.
The tribunal also ordered the World Bank to pay the legal costs for two of the women.
Chaves, who worked at the bank for nearly 27 years, resigned Nov 30, 2019 shortly after he was demoted, and then became finance minister of Costa Rica, where he was involved in relations with his old employer.
He resigned as finance minister in May 2020 amid disputes with the President Carlos Alvarado over spending, and is a candidate in February’s presidential election.