This report records discussions and recommendations from an expert workshop that was convened to discuss a new model for the design and implementation of operational-level grievance mechanisms (OGMs) that is driven by community conceptions of justice and fair play.
OGMs are systems that companies set up at their operational sites to handle complaints from workers, community members, and other stakeholders. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) have popularized the idea of OGMs as an important way for companies to fulfill their responsibilities to respect human rights and provide for an effective remedy. Existing OGMs, however, have generally been designed and implemented by the very companies that are the targets of the complaints that the mechanisms are designed to address. These OGMs often reflect a significant power imbalance between the parties. In numerous cases, rights-holders and outside observers have criticized these mechanisms for failing to meet international standards on fair process and for providing inadequate remedies for human rights abuses.
Recent studies on implementation of OGMs show that when companies design a grievance mechanism, it is often the case that neither side truly trusts the mechanism or the other side. Corporate-designed OGMs have been shown in some cases to weaken the legal rights of victims of abuse, risk their physical safety, and subject victims to bureaucratic hurdles that feel abusive rather than cathartic. Studies also show that existing grievance mechanisms suffer from a lack of corporate buy-in. Even where companies themselves design the mechanism, they may not be sufficiently supportive of or engaged in an OGM because of a lack of trust in the community, a fear of one group within the company losing power or control to another, or a simple failure to take the process seriously due to their perception that the community lacks bargaining power.
EarthRights International seeks to create a community-driven alternative to company-developed OGMs, based on the insight that OGMs should be designed and implemented based on the expectations and intentions of the affected communities whose rights they purport to respect. Unlike in corporate-driven OGMs, community-driven OGMs are designed primarily by the affected populations themselves to meet their needs and expectations as rights-holders seeking an adequate remedy.
In order to develop the model, ERI has initiated a Community-Driven OGMs (CDOGM) project. In addition to launching a pilot community-driven OGM at a site in Myanmar, ERI is developing toolkits and guides for communities and holding a series of expert workshops to obtain feedback and new ideas. This report arises out of the second workshop in this series; the first was held in New York in October 2014.