Damning testimonies of microcredit abuse

25 April 2018 by Eric Toussaint , Nathan Legrand

Contrary to what is often claimed, microcredits are not a way out of poverty; on the contrary they most often result in a greater deprivation and humiliation of their victims. On the Indian sub-continent 65 million people have taken on a microcredit, 90% are women. Worldwide, women count for 81% of microcredit users (112 million).

After an enquiry among microcredit victims and militants acting in their defence, we present here some emblematic cases. We point out that we have been unable to meet any advocates of microcredits. Contrary to the usual claim (affirmation) that a small loan will permit the development of successful enterprising activities, in most cases the users have used microcredit to cover more imperative and immediate necessities such as rents, guarantees Guarantees Acts that provide a creditor with security in complement to the debtor’s commitment. A distinction is made between real guarantees (lien, pledge, mortgage, prior charge) and personal guarantees (surety, aval, letter of intent, independent guarantee). , costs of schooling or medical treatment. Microcredits in Sri Lanka have most often been granted to women without any income.

Manbasa (50), her husband is low paid and only finds work intermittently. Unable to purchase their own home they are tenants. In September 2017 they were forced to move. In order to pay both the rent and the six months’ advance rent that the landlord of their new address wanted as guarantee Manbasa borrowed 142 000 rupees (737 euros [1]) from HNB Grameen, microcredit specialists. Manbasa is expected to repay 3 800 rupees a week for 52 weeks - interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. and principal. Over the year that works out at 197 600 rupees (1023 euros), this means that HNB Grameen are charging her an annual interest rate of 69 %2. Annual inflation Inflation The cumulated rise of prices as a whole (e.g. a rise in the price of petroleum, eventually leading to a rise in salaries, then to the rise of other prices, etc.). Inflation implies a fall in the value of money since, as time goes by, larger sums are required to purchase particular items. This is the reason why corporate-driven policies seek to keep inflation down. in Sri Lanka in 2017 did not exceed 6%, so the interest being charged is at extortionate and usury rates.3 This rate may be increased by penalties if Manbasa falls behind in repayments.

Table for Manbasa’s repayment of her first loan

Amount of the loan: 142.000 Sri Lankan rupees
Term: 52 weeks Annual rate: 69,16 %
Period Credit before term Interests Capital Term
1 142.000,00 1.888,60 1.911,88 3.800,48
2 140.088,12 1.863,17 1.937,30 3.800,48
3 138.150,82 1.837,41 1.963,07 3.800,48
4 136.187,75 1.811,30 1.989,18 3.800,48
5 134.198,57 1.784,84 2.015,64 3.800,48
6 132.182,93 1.758,03 2.042,44 3.800,48
7 130.140,49 1.730,87 2.069,61 3.800,48
8 128.070,88 1.703,34 2.097,13 3.800,48
9 125.973,75 1.675,45 2.125,03 3.800,48
10 123.848,72 1.647,19 2.153,29 3.800,48
11 121.695,43 1.618,55 2.181,93 3.800,48
12 119.513,51 1.589,53 2.210,95 3.800,48
13 117.302,56 1.560,12 2.240,35 3.800,48
14 115.062,21 1.530,33 2.270,15 3.800,48
15 112.792,06 1.500,13 2.300,34 3.800,48
16 110.491,72 1.469,54 2.330,94 3.800,48
17 108.160,78 1.438,54 2.361,94 3.800,48
18 105.798,84 1.407,12 2.393,35 3.800,48
19 103.405,49 1.375,29 2.425,18 3.800,48
20 100.980,31 1.343,04 2.457,44 3.800,48
21 98.522,87 1.310,35 2.490,12 3.800,48
22 96.032,75 1.277,24 2.523,24 3.800,48
23 93.509,50 1.243,68 2.556,80 3.800,48
24 90.952,70 1.209,67 2.590,81 3.800,48
25 88.361,90 1.175,21 2.625,26 3.800,48
26 85.736,64 1.140,30 2.660,18 3.800,48
27 83.076,46 1.104,92 2.695,56 3.800,48
28 80.380,90 1.069,07 2.731,41 3.800,48
29 77.649,49 1.032,74 2.767,74 3.800,48
30 74.881,75 995,93 2.804,55 3.800,48
31 72.077,20 958,63 2.841,85 3.800,48
32 69.235,35 920,83 2.879,65 3.800,48
33 66.355,70 882,53 2.917,95 3.800,48
34 63.437,76 843,72 2.956,75 3.800,48
35 60.481,00 804,40 2.996,08 3.800,48
36 57.484,92 764,55 3.035,93 3.800,48
37 54.449,00 724,17 3.076,30 3.800,48
38 51.372,69 683,26 3.117,22 3.800,48
39 48.255,47 641,80 3.158,68 3.800,48
40 45.096,79 599,79 3.200,69 3.800,48
41 41.896,10 557,22 3.243,26 3.800,48
42 38.652,85 514,08 3.286,39 3.800,48
43 35.366,45 470,37 3.330,10 3.800,48
44 32.036,35 426,08 3.374,39 3.800,48
45 28.661,96 381,20 3.419,27 3.800,48
46 25.242,68 335,73 3.464,75 3.800,48
47 21.777,94 289,65 3.510,83 3.800,48
48 18.267,11 242,95 3.557,52 3.800,48
49 14.709,58 195,64 3.604,84 3.800,48
50 11.104,74 147,69 3.652,78 3.800,48
51 7.451,96 99,11 3.701,37 3.800,48
52 3.750,59 49,88 3.750,59 3.800,48
Total 55624,78 142.000 197624,78

Manbasa explained that she signed without being able to read the contract.

Two months into her repayments Mambasa ran into difficulties. Her husband could not hope to make more than 15 000 rupees in a month. To repay the first loan Mambasa took out a second loan of 75 000 rupees (389 euros) with the society LOLC, also microcredit specialists. The repayments were 15 monthlies of 6,339 rupees; a total over the period of 95,085 rupees, an interest rate of 37%.4 Manbasa was also unable to read this contract with LOLC.

Table for Mambasa’s repayment of her second loan

Amount of the loan: 75.000 Sri Lankan rupees
Term: 15 months Annual rate: 37,50 %
Period Credit before term Interests Capital Term
1 75.000,00 2.343,75 3.995,68 6.339,43
2 71.004,32 2.218,88 4.120,55 6.339,43
3 66.883,77 2.090,12 4.249,31 6.339,43
4 62.634,46 1.957,33 4.382,11 6.339,43
5 58.252,35 1.820,39 4.519,05 6.339,43
6 53.733,30 1.679,17 4.660,27 6.339,43
7 49.073,04 1.533,53 4.805,90 6.339,43
8 44.267,14 1.383,35 4.956,08 6.339,43
9 39.311,05 1.228,47 5.110,96 6.339,43
10 34.200,09 1.068,75 5.270,68 6.339,43
11 28.929,41 904,04 5.435,39 6.339,43
12 23.494,03 734,19 5.605,24 6.339,43
13 17.888,78 559,02 5.780,41 6.339,43
14 12.108,37 378,39 5.961,05 6.339,43
15 6.147,33 192,10 6.147,33 6.339,43
Total 20.091,48 75.000,00 95.091,48

Risana took on her first loan in 2014. She also borrowed to pay her rent and the landlord’s guarantee. She has no personal income. When she couldn’t manage to keep up the repayments of her outstanding debts she borrowed 50,000 rupees from a usurer at conditions that were even harsher than Mambasa had to face; she had to repay 5,000 rupees a month until the loan of 50,000 rupees was paid off in one lump sum. Risana has paid for eighteen months (90,000 rupees). The lender continues to claim 5,000 rupees a month and will not accept that the sums already paid are payments against the original loan. For as long as she cannot repay the 50,000 in one lump sum she continues to pay interest of 5,000 rupees a month to the lender!
Like Mambasa, Risana again borrowed, in October 2017. This time from LOLC, 80,000 rupees and must find 101,430 rupees in fifteen monthly payments of 6762 rupees. Which turns out to be an interest rate of 37%. Risana is very worried and can see no way out of her predicament.

Table for Risana’s repayment of her loan

Amount of the loan: 80.000 Sri Lankan rupees
Term: 15 months Annual rate: 37,50 %
Period Credit before term Interests Capital Term
1 80.000,00 2.500,00 4.262,06 6.762,06
2 75.737,94 2.366,81 4.395,25 6.762,06
3 71.342,69 2.229,46 4.532,60 6.762,06
4 66.810,09 2.087,82 4.674,25 6.762,06
5 62.135,84 1.941,75 4.820,32 6.762,06
6 57.315,52 1.791,11 4.970,95 6.762,06
7 52.344,57 1.635,77 5.126,29 6.762,06
8 47.218,28 1.475,57 5.286,49 6.762,06
9 41.931,79 1.310,37 5.451,69 6.762,06
10 36.480,10 1.140,00 5.622,06 6.762,06
11 30.858,04 964,31 5.797,75 6.762,06
12 25.060,29 783,13 5.978,93 6.762,06
13 19.081,37 596,29 6.165,77 6.762,06
14 12.915,60 403,61 6.358,45 6.762,06
15 6.557,15 204,91 6.557,15 6.762,06
Total 21.430,91 80.000,00 101.430,91

Tandama is slightly over 50 and her husband is 70 and still works as a daily labourer. He may earn between 500 and 600 rupees (2.5/3 euros) a day if he has the “luck” to be taken on by his boss. They have three children to care for including two that Tandama took in out of goodness. Five years ago she borrowed 200,000 rupees from a usurer in order to pay rent. Her husband and adopted son were off work through accidents so no money was coming in. The lender wanted 8,000 rupees a month until such time as she could repay the 200,000 in a lump sum. To find the lump sum she was forced to make multiple small loans from several other usurers, Today, in spite of all the repayments she has made she still owes 500,000 rupees and is in dire distress.

Concilia was forced to borrow 20,000 rupees five years ago when her son, a fisherman, had an accident, her husband’s income was insufficient to cover their rent. For this first loan she deposited her only valuable, a necklace estimated at 40,000 rupees, in the bank as collateral Collateral Transferable assets or a guarantee serving as security against the repayment of a loan, should the borrower default. . As she could not redeem the collateral it was seized by the bank. Then, she took out another loan of 50,000 rupees from the Rural Bank, that is presented as a cooperative bank. In this case the monthly payments correspond to a regular repayment of the loan plus the interest.

Lachinca has three children to provide for, one of which has heart problems, and she herself suffers from arthritis. Two years ago she was in urgent need of 22,500 rupees to pay medical costs that are not covered by the health services. Her husband is a fisherman and goes to sea for days at a time. He makes 3,000 to 5,000 rupees per trip. This low income is insufficient to cover the repayments especially considering that their rent is 15,000 rupees a month!

Lachinca borrowed 125,000 rupees from the private financial company Asia Asset who imposed very harsh conditions: repayments of 9,500 rupees a month for eighteen months which works out at an interest rate of 42%. As she couldn’t pay the company reduced her payments to 5,000 rupees but she had to fully repay in June 2017. She was unable to do this and so stopped paying. Since then she is continually harassed by the financial company.

However, to be granted the loan Lachinca had to find five neighbours to guarantee her borrowing. Now that she can’t pay the bank is harassing the neighbours for payment, who in their turn also harass Lachinca, whose predicament has become desperate.

Table for Lachinca’s repayment of her loan

Amount of the loan: 125.000,00 Sri Lankan rupees
Term: 18 months Annual rate: 42,36 %
Period Credit before term Interests Capital Term
1 125.000,00 4.412,50 5.088,19 9.500,69
2 119.911,81 4.232,89 5.267,80 9.500,69
3 114.644,01 4.046,93 5.453,76 9.500,69
4 109.190,25 3.854,42 5.646,27 9.500,69
5 103.543,98 3.655,10 5.845,59 9.500,69
6 97.698,39 3.448,75 6.051,94 9.500,69
7 91.646,46 3.235,12 6.265,57 9.500,69
8 85.380,89 3.013,95 6.486,74 9.500,69
9 78.894,14 2.784,96 6.715,73 9.500,69
10 72.178,42 2.547,90 6.952,79 9.500,69
11 65.225,62 2.302,46 7.198,22 9.500,69
12 58.027,40 2.048,37 7.452,32 9.500,69
13 50.575,08 1.785,30 7.715,39 9.500,69
14 42.859,69 1.512,95 7.987,74 9.500,69
15 34.871,95 1.230,98 8.269,71 9.500,69
16 26.602,24 939,06 8.561,63 9.500,69
17 18.040,61 636,83 8.863,86 9.500,69
18 9.176,75 323,94 9.176,75 9.500,69
Total : 46.012,41 125.000 171.012,41

Manoranee’s husband has just had a leg amputated after a workplace accident. He has no compensation. He has lost his income. One of their three children was recently hurt. Manoranee sells porridge « kenda » on the streets, which she prepares at home. She earns around 1,000 rupees a day. Their former landlord asked them to leave the premises saying he wanted to make improvements. The family had to move and their new landlord asked for a guarantee of ten months’ rent, that is 100,000 rupees. They negotiated a reduction to 50,000 rupees but have only managed to find 30,000 rupees (on top of the rent of 10,000 rupees that they pay regularly. The landlord is threatening them with expulsion if they do not deposit the outstanding 20, 000 with him. They are desperate. What is more, they would like to provide Manoranee’s husband with a prosthesis and wonder whether she should take out a loan to cover the costs. Hearing the tales of her friends and neighbours she is very much discouraged.

Jayanthi pays 13,000 rupees rent for her home. She also had to pay a ten month guarantee to the owner. She borrowed 80,000rupees from a microcredit company called Vision Fund, financial branch of an NGO called World Vision. Jayanthi borrowed 80,000 rupees and repaid 8,000 rupees a month for twelve months. An interest rate of 35%.

Table for Jayanthi’s repayment of her loan

Amount of the loan: 80.000 Sri Lankan rupees
Term: 12 months Annual rate: 35,08 %
Period Credit before term Interests Capital Term
1 80.000,00 2.338,40 5.661,67 8.000,07
2 74.338,33 2.172,91 5.827,16 8.000,07
3 68.511,17 2.002,58 5.997,49 8.000,07
4 62.513,68 1.827,27 6.172,79 8.000,07
5 56.340,89 1.646,84 6.353,23 8.000,07
6 49.987,66 1.461,14 6.538,93 8.000,07
7 43.448,73 1.270,01 6.730,06 8.000,07
8 36.718,67 1.073,29 6.926,78 8.000,07
9 29.791,88 870,82 7.129,25 8.000,07
10 22.662,63 662,43 7.337,64 8.000,07
11 15.324,99 447,95 7.552,12 8.000,07
12 7.772,87 227,20 7.772,87 8.000,07
Total 16.000,84 80.000,00 96.000,84
The microcredit activity of World Vision International is disputed: see more information on Wikipedia pages here and here. Their French Wikipedia page says this about microcredit: “Microcredit: of general interest, Visionfund is the World Vision microcredit organisation. These small loan programmes assist small tradesmen and women in creating income producing activities: husbandry, bakery, grocer shops, tailor’s or seamstress’ workshops, transportation. The small profits made in these activities aid the entrepreneur to improve his or her living conditions, those of the family and to securely cover the needs of the children. World Vision notably favours loans to women (69% of the beneficiaries) because they invest more in the health and education of their children. Vision Fund also develops services in micro-insurance and micro-savings. Vision Fund has received numerous awards for its work.”

As Jayanthi could not manage to repay this amount she took out another loan for 50,000 rupees at the Rural bank mentioned above, who charge a slightly lower interest rate. As she continued to have difficulties she took out a third loan of 15,000 rupees over eleven months, again at Vision Fund. Jayanthi can’t manage and is considering borrowing from a usurer in order to repay her three outstanding loans.

Manuela, a young woman whose husband holds an informal (non declared) job in the maintenance of fishing boats had to borrow 20,000 rupees from a local usurer in January 2018. There again the repayment scheme is 1,700 rupees a month until she can repay the original loan in a lump sum. Her child of five has just started going to school. Public education in Sri Lanka is supposed to be entirely free, so there are no registration fees. But, because of the low level of public funding for the State education system the schools burden the parents with the costs of maintenance. For this reason the school asked Manuela for 9,000 rupees. That’s why she started borrowing from a usurer.

Photo de groupe après la réunion avec les femmes victimes du microcrédit le 12 avril 2018 à Négombo


These examples were all mentioned when we met over a dozen indebted women in Negombo ; they had come at the bidding of a local organisation that is active on housing rights. This organisation, represented by a lawyer, took part a few days before, in the 7th annual CADTM South Asia workshop that discussed public and private debt and particularly the nefarious effects of microcredit. This association, along with many activists that we encountered during our stay have become aware of the rapid expansion of microcredit over the last few years and the distress it is causing among the popular classes, especially the poorest who have incomes of less than 100 euros a month. It must be noted that the Sri Lankan minimum wage is at 10,000 rupees (52 euros) a month. In above mentioned cases minimum rents for a family are at this level and the minimum wage is not guaranteed because many jobs are in the parallel sectors of the economy (undeclared employment). The families we met were between four and six persons trying to live, eat, be housed, educated and cared for, where necessary, on one income. In all the cases we met, the women who took out micro loans did so in order to face one of these basic necessities. In all cases the women were forced to seek further loans, sometimes from local usurers, to cover repayments of previous loans with such extortionate conditions that normal repayments become impossible.

All these stories confirm the declarations made during the assembly organised by the CADTM in Colombo on 6 to 8 April 2018. The representatives of popular movements from all over Sri Lanka were present.

The distress of these families push many women to seeking work in the Gulf States and so they are absent for long periods. These jobs do not always allow the women to pay off their debt. Many women, despite promises made, find they are not paid for their work, which is often the cause of even more oppression. On 6 April The Guardian reported that employment agencies for the Gulf States are forcing women to take the contraceptive pill, bringing credibility to the many reported cases of domestics being raped. [2] What is more, Sri Lanka has just been through a long civil war causing many women to be single mothers, particularly among the Tamil people in the North and East of the country.

Two conclusions may be drawn from the workshop: 1. It is necessary to urge a movement of non-payment of microcredit debts in order to bring the authorities to the negotiating table with the radical movement for access to loans. 2. It is also necessary to integrate the resistance to abusive microcredit into a comprehensive struggle for income increases, a guaranteed minimum for the fishermen, small farmers and other self-employed occupations, improving public services, authorities creating more jobs and measures in favour of small producers.

It is fundamental to put the question of microcredit into a worldwide perspective. For this reason we reproduce here the article published by Eric Toussaint in April 2017.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle and further reviewed by Mike Krolikowski

Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Illegitimate Private Debt in the global South

The “debt system” is gathering steam In Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, just as in the highly industrialized countries, after going through several fundamental changes over the past 40 years. Mainly since the outbreak of the Third World debt crisis in the early 1980s.

Austerity policies aiming for structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

IMF : http://www.worldbank.org/
encourage private debt

Structural adjustment programmes were widely implemented on the pretext of the public debt crisis. Prices of the Third World’s exports to the global market plunged during 1981-1982 and the US Federal Reserve FED
Federal Reserve
Officially, Federal Reserve System, is the United States’ central bank created in 1913 by the ’Federal Reserve Act’, also called the ’Owen-Glass Act’, after a series of banking crises, particularly the ’Bank Panic’ of 1907.

FED – decentralized central bank : http://www.federalreserve.gov/
increased interest rates Interest rates When A lends money to B, B repays the amount lent by A (the capital) as well as a supplementary sum known as interest, so that A has an interest in agreeing to this financial operation. The interest is determined by the interest rate, which may be high or low. To take a very simple example: if A borrows 100 million dollars for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of 5%, the first year he will repay a tenth of the capital initially borrowed (10 million dollars) plus 5% of the capital owed, i.e. 5 million dollars, that is a total of 15 million dollars. In the second year, he will again repay 10% of the capital borrowed, but the 5% now only applies to the remaining 90 million dollars still due, i.e. 4.5 million dollars, or a total of 14.5 million dollars. And so on, until the tenth year when he will repay the last 10 million dollars, plus 5% of that remaining 10 million dollars, i.e. 0.5 million dollars, giving a total of 10.5 million dollars. Over 10 years, the total amount repaid will come to 127.5 million dollars. The repayment of the capital is not usually made in equal instalments. In the initial years, the repayment concerns mainly the interest, and the proportion of capital repaid increases over the years. In this case, if repayments are stopped, the capital still due is higher…

The nominal interest rate is the rate at which the loan is contracted. The real interest rate is the nominal rate reduced by the rate of inflation.
during 1979-1980. The combined effect of these two factors led to this crisis. [3] The late 20th century saw the domination of austerity policies and structural adjustment programmes in most countries, particularly in the so-called “developing” countries and the former Eastern bloc.

International institutions imposed these structural adjustment programmes, with the willing complicity of right-wing governments in order to implement a series of counter-reforms conducive only to the interests of large private enterprises, the great powers and local ruling classes. [4] These policies have degraded the living conditions of a large section of the population, particularly in the agricultural regions but also in the urban areas. What are the key moves that led to an increasing dependence on private debt for survival? The following can be listed:

  • Withdrawal of subsidies from many basic consumer goods (food, heating fuels, etc.) and services (electricity, water, transport), thus increasing the cost of living;
  • Cost recovery policy in the education and health sectors, forcing the lower classes to borrow in order to pay for tuition and health;
  • Abolition / privatization of public banks, especially those lending to farmers, placing the latter at the mercy of usurers and /or microcredit organizations;
  • Abolition of public agencies that bought agricultural commodities Commodities The goods exchanged on the commodities market, traditionally raw materials such as metals and fuels, and cereals. from farmers at pre-fixed and guaranteed prices. This abolition proved to be fatal and led to debts when the prices of agricultural products fell on the local / global market;
  • Abolition of government-controlled cereal storages, which used to provide food security in the event of bad harvests and other adversities. This step led to sudden and speculative increases in food prices, compelling families to incur debts to buy food at any cost;
  • Opening up the domestic market to imports and foreign investment: the competition devastated many local companies, and the small producers (farmers, craftsmen, etc.) were ruined;
  • Intensified campaigns for green revolution and chemical inputs (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) or genetically modified seeds (GMOs). This compelled farmers to borrow to buy seeds, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers in the hope that they would be able to repay once the crops were harvested and sold on the market;
  • Land privatization (see counter-reforms in Mexico in 1993, in Egypt at the same time and in many other countries);
  • Landgrabs by foreign owners;
  • Curtailing government sector jobs;
  • Wage freezes and cuts;
  • Generalization of VAT and indirect taxes;
  • Pension cuts (wherever applicable).

Together, these counter-reforms and actions have given rise to a high level of indebtedness among the working classes. This encompasses both daily consumptions and small investments in the informal urban sector as well as among small and medium-sized farmers.

The rise of microcredit since 1980-1990

Microcredit initiatives expanded from the 1980s. From the onset they found favour with governments and major international institutions such as the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

. This is the case of Colombia, as Daniel Munevar describes in a hitherto unpublished study. [5] Microfinance developed in the early 1980s in this country, with the support of private organizations, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the US government. The Colombian government adopted a microcredit development plan for small businesses of the informal sector in 1984. Similar projects were launched in Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico.
The best-known microcredit institution in the world is undoubtedly the Grameen Bank founded in the late 1970s by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. The World Bank has consistently promoted microcredit. The UN has campaigned for it and proclaimed 2005 as the “International Year of Microcredit”. In 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhamad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. That year, heads of states, including Jacques Chirac, José Zapatero, George W. Bush, Luis Inacio Lula, as well as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, waxed eloquent on microcredit.

The stakes are high

With substantial institutional support from governments and several international agencies, [6] microcredit institutions have gradually mushroomed in developing countries. Globally, around 2 billion adults do not have a bank account. This is extremely propitious for the growth of microcredit agencies. By 2014, there were 1,045 microcredit agencies with 112 million clients, 81% of whom were women, and a credit portfolio of $87 billion. 57% of these borrowers live in rural areas. These figures for 2014 are taken from the Microfinance Barometer 2016 report published by a “consortium” of the three main French banks (BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale), the Grameen Foundation - Renault, Véolia (the world’s first transnational service provider for water, waste management and energy), Master Card, ENGIE (GDF Suez), Danone (food industry), KPMG (one of the four leading audit firms in the world), Vinci (operator for transport and management - highways, airports, energy, construction and public works), the City Council of Paris, the princely government of the Principality of Monaco, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. Most of the loans range from $100 - $1,000.

Source : Microfinance Barometer 2016

Most of the major international banks have opened their own microcredit branch. These are entrusted with exploring the prospects of penetrating the sector, usually by forging alliances with existing microcredit agencies.

Obviously, these are small loans, but as we can see above, The 2 billion adults who do not have a bank account are a potentially juicy microcredit market. There are two other very important factors to consider. First, the microfinance sector charges 25%-50% as real interest rates (after adding various commissions to the official rate, which are charged to the borrowers). Secondly, according to the microcredit agencies, the recovery rate is more than 90% because the poor make greater efforts to repay their loans.

A strategic issue for capitalism

The capitalist system works by constantly trying to penetrate and dominate the spheres not yet under its full control. At the end of the 20th century, it succeeded enormously when the capitalist economic model was restored in societies like the USSR, the other European countries in the Soviet bloc, as well as China and Vietnam. The environmental crisis was embraced as an opportunity to develop the market for permits to pollute and promote a green capitalism. [7] Starting from the 1960s, when the green revolution was fully set into motion, capitalism successfully subjugated hundreds of millions of peasants to the capitalist model. They were made to depend on the seeds, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers produced and patented by capitalism. Starting from the 1990s, dispossession was again rampant, through large-scale land grabbing at the international level. [8]

Since the 1980s, with the constant rise of microcredit, persistent efforts have been made to bring the 2 billion adults without a bank account under capitalism’s financial fold. Mostly women, they are already embedded in monetary relations, but a part of the labour and a part of the production still correlates with the non-monetary domestic or community sphere (self-sufficient food production, housekeeping). The strategic challenge for the capitalists is to successfully and systematically bring them back into the capitalist scheme through formalized debt bound by contractual borrowing relationships. Traditionally women save money by pooling funds from amongst themselves. An example would be tontines in sub-Saharan Africa (where women pool their savings and lend to each other by turns for certain exigencies or for projects / investments). Capitalism considers that this system, where it still exists, must be stopped. The strategic objective for capitalism is to ensnare another part of humanity into debt: a part which has not yet been fully integrated into formal (contractual) capitalist relations.

Governments, international organizations such as the World Bank and all multilateral banks operating in the Southern countries (African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, European Investment Bank, etc.), large financial companies (almost all major private banks, investment funds Investment fund
Investment funds
Private equity investment funds (sometimes called ’mutual funds’ seek to invest in companies according to certain criteria; of which they most often are specialized: capital-risk, capital development funds, leveraged buy-out (LBO), which reflect the different levels of the company’s maturity.
), large commercial companies (major distribution chains), communication companies (mainly mobile phones) are thriving on the activity in these sectors.

Other than microcredit itself, which is the focus of this text, we must highlight how the commercial distribution chains have intensified consumer credit in a large number of emerging countries. We should also take note of the increased use of mobile phones for payments and fund transfers, especially by people who do not have a bank account. [9] This widespread use of mobile phones to make payments merits a specific study.

The microcredit fable

The main question for Muhammad Yunus is: “Since half of the world’s population is most fragile, what can be done to make them join the mainstream of global economy and participate in the free markets?” Yunus begins with the assumption that global economy works well through free market: the only problem of the poor is to get one foot on the ladder. The first loan would open up avenues for them. Do the banks doubt the poor people’s solvency? Are they refusing to grant them loans? Yunus is there, to experiment with loans to the poor. “When a borrower tries to dodge a loan offer on the pretext that he has no business experience and does not want to take that money, we must try to convince him that he can indeed come up with creative ideas for an ​​economic activity” (p.40). Take the loan first, later we’ll see what you managed to do…. For Yunus,“social-business is the missing piece of the capitalist system. Introducing it can save the system” (p.171). The question is whether such a death-dealing system should be saved. [10]

Muhammad Yunus

Numerous empirical studies on microcredit show that it does not really liberate its clients from the shackles of poverty. Microcredit leads many of its users into debt, even into over-indebtedness. It does not open the path for enterprises to enter the formal sector. Microenterprises borrowing from microcredit agencies remain in the informal sector. Microcredit neither allows local collectives to thrive nor supports any replacement to public services that are deteriorating or disappearing while the state applies neoliberal policies. In fact, microcredit reproduces the mechanisms that breed poverty. [11]

Once indebted, people, mostly women, can be more easily dispossessed, exposed, and forced to seek a paid job in the labour market. Thus they contribute to the burgeoning of the unemployed masses and the pressure to bring down wages. In many situations, clients of microcredit institutions facing troubles with repayments end up visiting traditional moneylenders. The latter impose fewer conditions but charge even higher interest rates.

Concrete examples of microcredit

Bangladesh: the archetypal example of microcredit

Bangladesh, one of the countries where microcredit is the most prevalent, has a population of 160 million. In 2015, 29 million people in Bangladesh resorted to microcredit, with an average of €200 (17,000 takas, currency of Bangladesh). [12] More than 80% of the borrowers were women. The following is a testimony from Abul Kalam Azad who works with Action Aid in Dhaka, Bangladesh and is also a member of the CADTM:

Microcredit, in its “classical” sense, implies the granting of small loans to a single group of several borrowers. A debtor group is made up of about 25-30 people committed to 16 principles (intended to ensure that the borrowers act collectively and inclusively as a group). Members of a group first form a joint savings fund and then apply to a microcredit agency for a loan on the strength of that fund. More recently, microcredit agencies have begun lending to individuals. For an individual loan, the borrower must provide a guarantee to the agency amounting to 30% of the amount contracted”. [13]

Real interest rates vary between 35-50% (including the official commissions). Consequently, given the difficulties of paying such rates, microfinance clients end up being indebted on an average to 3 microcredit organizations. Let us take an imaginary but completely plausible example. She (the majority of the microcredit borrowers are women) begins by borrowing from the Grameen Bank (currently, the third-ranked microcredit bank in Bangladesh in terms of volume). If she fails to repay on time, she borrows from BRAC (which is the premier microcredit organization) to repay the Grameen Bank. Unable to repay either BRAC or Grameen, she then turns to ASA (the second-ranked microcredit bank). If she can not pay yet again, she decides to disappear with her family. If the family lives in a village, they bolt without leaving an address and go, guilt-ridden, to the anonymity of the big city. Dhaka, the capital, has 14.5 million residents and other cities are also swelling.

The microcredit repayments involve so many difficulties that the indebted live under great stress and humiliation. According to Abul Kalam Azad:"Difficulties regarding repayments have brought huge stress within the borrowers’ families”. Since most of the borrowers do not own real estate, dispossession does not involve land or home: it revolves around the 30% guarantee that the borrower had to pledge with the microcredit agency. This very important factor must not be overlooked in understanding why the microfinance organizations have a recovery rate of more than 98%. A potential borrower must deposit 30% of the loan as collateral. Failure to repay implies that the microcredit organization will forfeit the guarantee. This is in fact a ploy for dispossessing a large number of people who lose their collateral if they fail to repay. Consequently, they leave their village to escape vilification.

A further clarification: in Bangladesh, the three largest microcredit banks control 61% of the market. If you visit the capital city, Dhaka, you will notice that the majority of ATMs (automated teller machines) belong to the three main banks.

Colombia: the State gives structural support to Microcredit

Les Autres Voix de la Planète, CADTM’s magazine, on illegitimate private debts (out april 2017 - in french)

As noted above, the governments of Colombia and the US, as well as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, have been actively launching, supporting and expanding microfinance. In Colombia, microenterprises, who are the biggest employers, have been the main targets of microcredit agencies. In 2014, five institutions dominated the sector by controlling 72% of the loans. Bancamia, the chief microcredit bank, is associated with BBVA, Spain’s second largest private bank. The State lends them operational support. In 1996, Corposol / Finansol, which controlled 40% of the market for new loans to microenterprises, had to be bailed out with public funds because of extensive over-trading Market activities
Buying and selling of financial instruments such as shares, futures, derivatives, options, and warrants conducted in the hope of making a short-term profit.
. [14] The senior executives of the microcredit banks have been recruited from large private banks, especially from the US such as Citibank. All the studies carried out by the Colombian government showcase the success of what it calls the microcredit industry. The reason is simple: these evaluations only consider the microfinance sector’s growth, without any concern for its effects on the economic activity, without looking into the capability of micro-enterprises to leave the informal sector for the formal sector. In fact, Colombian microfinance has retained the microenterprises in the informal sector, pushing them towards over-indebtedness, which in turn has seen a rise in payment defaults. Staring from the 2000s, the government persuaded the major banks to invest in microfinance. Between 2002 and 2006, they invested $130 million p.a., largely with a public guarantee in the case of default or bankruptcy. [15] The credit portfolio guaranteed by the State increased five-fold between 2001 and 2005. The government subsequently decided to grant more microcredits, and set a target of 5 million micro-credits between 2006 and 2010. The target was surpassed, 6.1 million credits were granted. For the period 2010-2014, the record was again beaten: while the government anticipated 7.7 million micro-loans, the actual figures touched 10.2 million. However, the expansion of business did not help improve the quality of employment. In 2006, pressure from microcredit banks led the government to approve an increase in the interest rates. [16] Authorized rates ranged from 22.6% to 33.9%.

Starting from 2010, the official rates rose further, wavering between 30-50%. Moreover, the government authorized the introduction of variable rates with indexation every 3 months. In Colombia, microcredit expansion is exponential, increasing from $136 million in 2002 to $3,800 million in 2016, an annual growth of 28.1%. In terms of individual loans in 2015, 72% of such microcredit is 1 to 25 times the legal minimum wage while the remaining 28% fluctuate between 25 to 120 times. In 2015, the return on equity Equity The capital put into an enterprise by the shareholders. Not to be confused with ’hard capital’ or ’unsecured debt’. (ROE) was phenomenal [17]: Bancamia reached 11.7%, the Women’s World Banking-WWB (sic!) 9.1% and the Banco Mundo Mujer 21 %. Goldman Sachs, globally one of the most profitable banks, does not match this!

While the Colombian banks specialized in microcredit seem to have a solid foothold, it is a different scenario for the people and the micro-enterprises availing of these loans. 32% of the clients are over-indebted and have had to request a restructuring of their debts, which basically implies extending the repayment period. The economic situation is deteriorating in Colombia in 2016-2017 and more and more borrowers are defaulting. [18]

South Africa : often the employers, by court order, retain repayments directly from the workers’ pay packets

On 16 August 2012, the police opened fire on miners striking in the Marikana region of South Africa, killing 34 of them. “The massacre of striking mineworkers at Marikana in 2012 is widely regarded as a turning point in the history of democratic South Africa. As well as revealing the virtually unconditional support given to capital by the ANC and the new black elite, it revealed also the high levels of debt amongst mine workers. Most of this debt is with ‘micro-lenders’ and the growth of micro-lending in South Africa has been nothing short of phenomenal. For South Africans earning between R3 500 and R10 000 a month (a worker’s salary) as much as 40% of income goes toward covering loan repayments. Garnishee orders - when employers are ordered by the courts to deduct debt repayments directly from workers’ salaries – are common. Many mine workers were striking for higher wages in 2012 in part because garnishee orders were leaving them with little on which to live or because they were indebted to the unsecured lenders operating outside the mines or to the cash loan shops that have grown up in towns like Marikana all over South Africa”. [19]

Morocco : when the victims unite

Since the mid-1990s, the Moroccan government has been promoting microcredit through national and international public funding (Hassan II Fund for Economic and Social Development, UNDP UNDP
United Nations Development Programme
The UNDP, founded in 1965 and based in New York, is the UN’s main agency of technical assistance. It helps the DC, without any political restrictions, to set up basic administrative and technical services, trains managerial staff, tries to respond to some of the essential needs of populations, takes the initiative in regional co-operation programmes and co-ordinates, theoretically at least, the local activities of all the UN operations. The UNDP generally relies on Western expertise and techniques, but a third of its contingent of experts come from the Third World. The UNDP publishes an annual Human Development Report which, among other things, classifies countries by their Human Development Rating (HDR).

, US Aid, etc.). Today, the National Federation of Microcredit Associations boasts of a membership of 13 coordinated institutions, 4 of which (including two subsidiaries of banks) are at the origin of 95% of the loans granted . From 2008 to 2011, it experienced a crisis due to repayment failures, which led to, among other things, the Zakoura foundation’s bankruptcy. This in turn prompted the state to intervene to reorganize and consolidate the fabric of the sector.

From the 1990s to the end of 2015, loans totalling nearly 50 billion dirhams were granted ranging between 500- 50,000 dirhams (€ 50 - 5,000) at an average effective rate of 35%, which can easily go up.

The microcredit organizations take advantage of the borrowers’ exigencies, their level of education and their ignorance of the technicalities to camouflage the actual effective annual interest rate, citing only the monthly rate.

The difficulties of repaying excessive loans and the application of usury rates explain why close to 4,500 victims of microcredit, mostly women, launched a movement in the Ouarzazate region (South-east of Morocco) in 2011. [20] ATTAC CADTM Morocco supported this struggle and regarded it as a just struggle against the greed of banking institutions and the investors who run them, and pointed out the illegitimacy and illegality of these loans.

Caravane internationale de solidarité avec les femmes victimes des micro-crédits au Maroc

As ATTAC CADTM Morocco reports: “What the microfinance institutions claim to be their goals, the laws that support them, and the illegal methods adopted to handle unpaid debts: all smack of hypocrisy. The persistence of the movement has exposed this. The borrowers were subjected to various forms of threats and stripped of their property. Women particularly have been under tremendous pressure: some have left their families, others have emigrated, and some have even been forced into prostitution. [21]

Initially, the organizers of the movement were prosecuted and harshly sentenced. Vis-à-vis a strong mobilization of the victims and the international solidarity they received, the court was forced, ultimately, to acquit them. [22]

As ATTAC CADTM emphasizes: "Microcredit involves more than the greed of local and international financial institutions. It points to the more general problem of the type of policies adopted for combating poverty, and in a broader sense, the development model underlying these policies. On the one hand, land grabbing, extended agri-business, closure of public services or privatization are eating into the livelihoods of a part of the population. On the other hand, they are receiving loans, thus gaining access to paid services: private schools, health clinics, etc. During the process, they are being asked to devise their own income-generating activities in a crisis-ridden world, substantially depriving them, at the same time, of the benefits”. [23]

Other mechanisms of private debts

These play an important role in the so-called developing countries, emerging or not.

In China, more than 100 million people have been caught up in a colossal housing bubble that has been snowballing for over 10 years. The prices for homes have become astronomical. Tens of millions of peasants are victims of real-estate speculation, which makes agricultural land near urban centres costlier. The mortgages issued by the Chinese banks are continually increasing and the bankers are profiteering more and more. Defaults on repayments are on the rise. Tens of millions of families will face the threat of eviction when the real estate prices collapse.

In India, over the last 20 years, more than 300,000 suicides of indebted peasants have been recorded. The number of victims is not subsiding. [24] Also dowry is one of the curses still existing in the Indian society, forcing poor parents to resort to microcredit and other forms of loans so that their daughters may marry. Despite legal provisions for punishment under section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (Dowry Death), 8,233, 8,083, and 8,455 deaths related to dowry-related abuses were registered in the country in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. Despite the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, parents still “take loans, sell land and fall into deep debt in order to save for their daughter’s dowry”. 21 year old Shital Vyankat Vayal, daughter of a poor farmer in the western state of Maharashtra in India committed suicide by jumping into a well, to save her family from the financial and social burden of her marriage. Her suicide note says that her father had been trying to borrow from moneylenders, but agencies and banks refused to grant him loans for want of capital, since consistent crop failures had landed the family in dire straits. In another incident dating back to 2011, a mother committed suicide along with her son and married daughter since the family was under tremendous pressure to pay dowry for the daughter. The mother’s death-note read: “Overwhelming debts worry us. We cannot repay.

To summarize, in these early years of the 21st century, private debt is increasingly being used to enslave, plunder and deprive the already oppressed populations both in the global North and South. This is why the CADTM has decided to include in its activities the fight for the abolition of illegitimate private debts.

Acknowledgments: The author wishes to thank Damien Millet and Claude Quémar for their review of the text and their suggestions. He also thanks Daniel Munevar and Suchandra de Sarkar for their research and assistance. The author is solely and entirely responsible for any errors or omissions contained herein.

Translated by Suchandra de Sarkar and further reviewed by Mike Krolikowski


[11 euro = 192.5 rupeeSri llanka rupees on 12 April 2018.

[2Sophie Cousins, « Recruiters order Sri Lankan women to take birth control before working in Gulf », The Guardian, 6 April 2018. See https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/apr/06/recruiters-order-sri-lankan-women-to-take-birth-control-before-working-in-gulf

[3See chapter 3 of “Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers” can be purchased directly from the MONTHLY REVIEW STORE.

[5Daniel Munevar, “Colombia: A critical look”, 2017, 21 pages, will appear in a publication of The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

[6Once again, what is advertised as an enterprise of the civil society and private initiative, actually owes its success to crucial support from governments as well as international agencies (e.g. the World Bank) bolstering the States’ roles.

[7See L’impossible capitalisme vert : Un livre indispensable pour construire un projet écosocialiste (The impossible green capitalism, an indispensable book for ecosocialist projects) (in French). Also see Daniel Tanuro, Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work, Merlin Press, UK, October 2013

[8See Nicolas Sersiron, “Terres préemptées, néo-colonialisme renforcé” (Lands appropriated, neo-colonialism reinforced) (in French).

[10See Muhammad Yunus, Vers un nouveau capitalisme (Towards a new capitalism) (in French), Publisher: J-C Lattès, 2007, 280 pages, p. 31. We have translated these parts from Denise Comane’s excellent article in French, titled “Muhammad Yunus: prix Nobel de l’ambiguïté ou du cynisme?” (Muhammad Yunus: Nobel prize for ambiguity or cynicism?”)

[11Esther Duflo, “Microcrédit, miracle ou désastre ?” (Microcredit, miracle or disaster?) (in French)

[12Source: Monower Mustafa’s deliberation in the CADTM’s international seminar organized in Dhaka from 3-4 March, 2017. See the full report here: “Concerted efforts in South Asia against debt and microcredit”.

[16Gutiérrez, M. L. (2009). Microfinanzas dentro del contexto del sistema financiero colombiano. (Microfinances within the context of Colombia’s economic system) (in Spanish).

[17Return on Equity calculates the ratio between net income and shareholders’ equity in terms of a percentage. The equation for ROE would be = Net profit / equity.

[18El Nuevo Siglo, 20 April 2017, Bogota, “Cae desembolso de microcrédito” (Number of microcredits plunges) (in Spanish)

[19Source: Samantha Ashman, Financialisation and mine workers’ struggles in South Africa, paper presented at the seminar on Finance and Social movements, Paris, 13 April 2017

[20See Lucile Daumas, “Micro-crédit, macro-arnaque” (Microcredit, a macro-scam) (in French)

[21ATTAC CADTM Maroc, “Le microcrédit au Maroc: quand les pauvres financent les riches”. (Morocco’s microcredit system: when the poor finance the rich) (in French) This article is soon to be published in 2017. Also see Omar Aziki, ”Maroc : les couches populaires sous le double joug du microcrédit et du despotisme” (The people are doubly burdened by microcredit and despotism) (in French)

[22See Souad Guennoun, “Acquittement pour les deux inculpé.e.s du procès microcrédit à Ouarzazate” (The two accused in the microcredit lawsuit in Ouarzazate have been acquitted) (in French)

[23ATTAC CADTM Maroc, “Le microcrédit au Maroc: quand les pauvres financent les riches”. (Morocco’s microcredit system: when the poor finance the rich) (in French) This article is soon to be published in 2017.

[24For specific examples, see Al Jazeera, “India’s sugarcane farmers: A cycle of debt and suicide”, 3 April 2017.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

Other articles in English by Eric Toussaint (636)

0 | 10 | 20 | 30 | 40 | 50 | 60 | 70 | 80 | ... | 630

Other articles in English by Nathan Legrand (15)

0 | 10




8 rue Jonfosse
4000 - Liège- Belgique

00324 60 97 96 80