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Chapter 8. External Communication and Grievance Mechanism

Provided by IFC Sustainable Business Advisory


If your company has social and environmental impacts in the community, inquiries, concerns and complaints are bound to arise. How you respond to and manage these issues will have significant implications for how your business is perceived and, possibly, whether or not it succeeds.

EXTERNAL COMMUNICATION

Even if affected communities per se are not identified, you should always establish and maintain a publicly available and easily accessible channel for stakeholders to contact you (e.g., phone number, website, email address, etc.).

External stakeholders can provide valuable information, such as suggestions on product improvement, feedback on interactions with your employees and/or comments from regulators, NGOs and individuals regarding your company’s environmental and social performance.

The procedure for external communication should include methods to (i) receive, register and validate external communications and requests for information from the public; (ii) screen and assess the importance of the issue raised and determine how to address it; (iii) provide, track, document and publish responses; and (iv) adjust the management program when appropriate.

GRIEVANCE MECHANISM

The purpose of a grievance mechanism is to establish a way for individuals, groups or communities affected by your business to contact you if they have an inquiry, a concern or a formal complaint.

In practice, a grievance mechanism should:

• Establish a way for people to contact you – openly or anonymously – to pose their questions, to express concerns or to file a complaint. Examples are suggestion boxes, a toll-free telephone hotline, an email address, and regular meetings arranged to discuss particular problem areas.

• Assign a person or team in your company who is responsible for receiving, registering and processing all grievances.

• Establish procedures to register, screen, categorize, investigate and determine resolution and redress options.

• Establish a system to communicate decisions taken and progress on pending actions. It is important that people know when they can expect a response.

Not all complaints can be resolved in the same way. Simpler issues, such as a company truck running over chickens in the road, might be dealt with by the same team responsible for registering the complaint. More complex problems, such as allegations of widespread groundwater contamination, might require immediate intervention by senior managers and more dedicated resources for investigating, documenting and reporting. For complex and recurring problems, consider reaching out to third-party facilitators that can act as independent mediators.

The more serious the claim is, the more independent should be the mechanism to determine the resolution and redress options.

graphclaim.jpg

The most important thing is to make sure the grievance mechanism is accessible and trusted. Tailor it for the local community so that it is easy for them to raise concerns. This requirement mandates having the right people leading this effort inside your company. The grievance mechanism must be accessible at no cost and without retribution to the party that originated the complaint and should not impede access to judicial or administrative remedies.

Don’t underestimate the value of a well-implemented grievance mechanism. The information you receive can act as an early-warning system before the problem becomes too costly and time-consuming to address.

A Grievance Mechanism is

UNDERSTANDABLE AND TRUSTED when:

  • affected communities understand the proce­dure to handle a complaint;
  • people are aware of the expected response time; and
  • confidentiality of the person raising the com­plaint is protected.

 CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE AND ACCESSIBLE when:

  • claims can be presented in the local language;
  • technology required to present a claim is commonly used (e.g., paper, text messaging, internet); and
  • illiterate persons can present verbal complaints.

 AT NO COST when:

  • people don’t need to travel long distances to present a claim; and
  • the company covers the costs of third party facilitation.

 

Implementing a Grievance Mechanism

  • Scale it to fit the level and complexity of social and environ­mental risks and impacts identified in your company.
  • Design the process to be easily understandable, accessible, trusted and culturally appropriate.
  • Publicize the availability of the grievance procedure so people know where to go and whom to approach.
  • Commit to a response time and keep to it as this will increase transparency and a sense of “fair process.”
  • Keep records of each step to create a “paper trail.”

 

suitcasesmall.jpg Look at the Toolkit items Checklist for an Effective Grievance Mechanism and Grievances Log to get started.

 

<Go to ESMS Implementation Handbook Main Page

<Go back to Chapter 7. Stakeholder Engagement

>Proceed to Chapter 9. Ongoing Reporting to Affected Communities

Copyright © 2016 IFC Corporate Governance.  All Rights Reserved.

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