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The Business Case for Grievance Mechanisms

An operational-level grievance mechanism is a channel through which community members who feel they have been adversely affected by business activities can raise concerns to a company and have those concerns addressed in a prompt and professional manner. As with any form of feedback designed to maintain or improve relationships and create positive change, grievance mechanisms are only as good as the relationship that a company has with community members. Success therefore hinges on ongoing engagement, not just through the channel of a grievance mechanism.

Operational-level grievance mechanisms are established for a particular operation and implemented by local company managers and community relations staff with the goal of benefiting business and communities by:

  1. 1facilitating better community engagement;
  2. 2improving the identification, monitoring and redress of community concerns, as well as a company’s response to these concerns;
  3. 3identifying risks for companies and communities;
  4. 4enabling more proactive efforts to mitigate impacts that give rise to complaints.

Grievance mechanisms are an important component of stakeholder engagement, helping to promote respectful engagement throughout the process of addressing negative impacts and providing project benefits. They also serve as early warning systems for issues impacting the community that could lead to conflict.

Concerns and complaints expressed by community members help companies develop an understanding of how their impacts are perceived and felt at the local level, allow staff to respond to and address issues, and indicate a level of trust in the operation. A large number of complaints may indicate that community members trust company staff to resolve issues, and do not feel the need to go through a third-party process. In contrast, a low volume of complaints can be a sign that the grievance mechanism is not functioning well, because of a lack of trust or accessibility. Grievance mechanisms can only be effective if community members know that their complaints can be resolved fairly, efficiently, and in a respectful and transparent way.

Successful grievance mechanisms are developed by:

  1. 1consulting with communities on design, methods, and implementation;
  2. 2building on existing methods for resolving complaints;
  3. 3implementing a risk-based, fit-for-purpose approach; and
  4. 4promoting local solutions to local problems with local accountability.

A well-functioning grievance mechanism:

  1. 1is an essential component of community engagement and impact management;
  2. 2works best when coupled with proactive engagement and involvement of operations in preventing impacts;
  3. 3provides valuable data on how impacts are felt and perceived by community members (unused feedback is a missed opportunity for continuous learning and improvement); and
  4. 4allows identification of areas that need targeted attention, further guidance, or capacity building.

Effectively identifying and addressing community concerns requires not just focused effort from staff on the ground, but also continuous support and reinforcement from senior management. It is common to specify that senior management is accountable for implementing the grievance mechanism, whereas community relations staff are responsible for implementation. Senior management would be accountable for:

  1. 1championing collaborative community engagement and the grievance mechanism with staff and contractors;
  2. 2empowering grievance mechanism staff with decision-making authority;
  3. 3providing the resources necessary for implementation;
  4. 4becoming involved with complex complaints that may require internal or external appeals; and
  5. 5ensuring that systemic learning from complaints and continuous improvement are occurring in the company.