Non-Judicial Grievance Mechanisms
As explained in the previous section, it can be very difficult for aggrieved communities to seek justice and hold companies accountable through the courts or by using human rights bodies. Moreover, development banks such as the World Bank Group have legal immunity in almost all jurisdictions, meaning that they usually cannot be sued in the courts for wrongdoing that causes harm.
In response to pressure from civil society groups that have highlighted these significant accountability gaps, some companies, industries and development banks have developed internal grievance and accountability mechanisms. These mechanisms are generally established with the purpose of providing an accessible avenue to resolve grievances for communities who have suffered harms, or anticipate harms. Given that of these mechanisms were established by the company, industry or development bank they’re supposed to hold accountable, the outcome of using these mechanisms often falls short of a full and effective remedy for the aggrieved community. This section describes several types of non-judicial grievance mechanisms and provides some commentary on their effectiveness.
This section does not cover every type of grievance mechanism. Other mechanisms, such as those established by export credit agencies and bilateral aid agencies, may be relevant if you have identified these actors along the investment chain.
If you are representing communities through any of these accountability mechanisms, you should obtain evidence of your authority to represent them and submit this along with the complaint. If the community members submitting the complaint wish to keep their identity confidential from the government and business managing the project because they fear reprisals, make sure you clearly request confidentiality in your complaint.
You should not rely on the information in this chapter alone in deciding whether and how to submit a complaint to a particular mechanism. Always carefully read the information and instructions on the mechanism’s official website. Links to the relevant websites are included in the descriptions below.
Company and Operational-Level Grievance Mechanisms
Since the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights in 2011, more companies have established their own grievance mechanisms to deal with community complaints about their operations. The Guiding Principles set out a framework for governments and businesses with the aim of ensuring that business activities do not violate human rights and that remedies are provided if violations do occur. One of the principles is that “business enterprises should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted” by their operations. The purpose of company grievance mechanisms is to create a direct channel of communication between aggrieved communities and the company. This ensures that the company can learn about community concerns and address them before they escalate into larger conflicts.
It is worth finding out whether the business managing the project or other companies along the investment chain have their own grievance mechanism, and what the process entails. However, many observers have been critical of these mechanisms for not being fair or effective in providing meaningful remedies. This is not surprising, since the grievance mechanism is established by the company itself and is not independent or impartial. It is a good idea to ask other NGOs or communities with experience using the mechanism if they found the process worthwhile. Take this information into account when advising communities whether or not to use the mechanism to resolve their problems.
Box 17: The International Finance Corporation’s requirement for a project grievance mechanism
If your investment chain mapping has uncovered the International Finance Corporation (IFC) as an investor, the business managing the project may be required under IFC rules to set up a project-level grievance process. (This requirement may in some cases apply to projects that have received support from a financial institution that received IFC financing.) Since 2006, the IFC’s Sustainability Framework requires companies that receive project finance to establish a grievance mechanism in consultation with affected communities if risks of adverse impacts are anticipated. The mechanism is supposed to be equipped to deal with issues that arise in relation to community health, safety and security, land acquisition and displacement, and adverse impacts on indigenous peoples. Under IFC’s policy, the company is required to inform affected communities about the grievance mechanism and how to use it.
If your research shows that the company should have established a grievance mechanism, but the affected community you are supporting has not been told how to submit complaints, this may be a violation of IFC’s policies. If this is the case, the community can submit an official complaint to the IFC’s Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) (see below for more information).
The standards of other public and private financial institutions that you have identified along the investment chain may contain similar requirements.
Multi-Stakeholder Sustainability Initiatives and Grievance Mechanisms
Multi-stakeholder sustainability initiatives are associations that bring together companies and civil society, with the purpose of making business activities more socially and environmentally sustainable. They often engage businesses that are involved in the same industry or are producers, sellers and buyers of a particular product or commodity, such as sugar or palm oil. Other multi-stakeholder initiatives engage businesses based on the potential environmental or social impacts of those processes, such as impacts on forests or labor conditions. Businesses typically engage in these initiatives though membership, which usually involves agreeing to follow the initiative’s code of conduct, or through a more rigorous system of certification that verifies that their business practices meet a particular set of standards, including social and environmental standards.
As consumers become more concerned about social and environmental issues, they want to be sure that the products they buy were made without harming the people and the environment. As a result of this consumer demand, companies are increasingly concerned about labeling their products as certified by multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as those described below.
Some of these initiatives have established grievance processes for receiving and addressing complaints that emerge from the operations of the businesses involved. Complaints need to demonstrate that a business’s practices have failed to meet the standards of the multi-stakeholder initiative. In theory, grievances should be resolved through the complaints process, and if the business fails to address them in a manner consistent with the applicable standards, it can be expelled from the multi-stakeholder group and/or lose certification. This can have a serious effect on the business’s reputation and can therefore be a powerful part of your advocacy strategy.
However, by their nature, multi-stakeholder initiatives may be easily influenced by businesses and often fail to function fairly and effectively to address the grievances of affected communities. They are not always willing or able to influence the behavior of large business members, and instead may shield those businesses from negative publicity.
Before you decide to file a complaint with a multi-stakeholder initiative, it is worth asking the advice of other organisations that have recently had experience engaging with it to decide whether it is worthwhile and how to make the best use of it.
The Forest Stewardship Council
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), one of the first multi-stakeholder initiatives, has adopted principles and criteria for sustainable forestry. Businesses that manufacture, process or trade forest products can apply for certification if they meet the principles and criteria. For a consumer product to be labelled with FSC certification, all businesses involved in producing the product must be certified. In theory, this means that the final consumers of the product will know that it meets FSC’s principles and has not had a negative impact on forests.
You can find out whether a business or buyer has FSC certification through this database. The company is also likely to advertise that it has FSC certification on its own website, and will often include the FSC logo on products at the point of sale. If the company does have certification and you believe its operations may have failed to meet FSC’s principles, you can submit an online complaint, called a dispute submission form, available here.
Complaints against companies that have certification are sent by the FSC to the relevant certifying body, which then investigates the complaint. A certifying body is a private agency approved by the FSC to assess whether a company meets the principles and criteria. In addition, the body carries out annual assessments to make sure that a certified company is continuing to meet the principles. Its role is also to investigate complaints and work to resolve the issues. However, there is an inherent conflict of interest in this process, because the certifying body is paid by the company itself. An organization called FSC-Watch is highly critical of the FSC complaints process for this reason.
If the grievances are still not resolved after this process, you can elevate the complaint to the FSC itself, including a complaint against the certifying body if you believe it has not performed its duties according to FSC’s standards.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has adopted standards called the Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. These principles must be met for palm oil plantations and processors along the supply chain to receive certification. These principles include protections for people and communities that have legal, customary and user rights to land that the company is using for its plantation. They require the free, prior and informed consent of such communities for the use of the land. They also include environmental protections. The principles and criteria are available here:
The RSPO has established a grievance system that accepts complaints about the actions of its business members, including on those related to land, the environment and human rights.
If the community you are supporting is affected by a palm oil plantation, you can find out whether the company or a buyer on the investment chain is a member of RSPO by searching its database.
The complaint should explain the company’s actions and how they fail to meet the principles and criteria or other applicable standards such as the RSPO Members Code of Conduct. The RSPO website provides a complaint form to be filled in and submitted along with supporting evidence, such as your impact assessment. Your complaint should also include information about any previous efforts to resolve the community’s grievances.
Several options are available to try to resolve the grievances through the complaints system, including mediation or investigation of compliance and recommendations made by a complaints panel. In serious cases, the complaints panel may recommend to the executive board of the RSPO that a company’s membership be suspended or cancelled.
Further information about the RSPO complaints system and how to file a complaint can be found here.
In 2013, a number of NGOs, including the Forest Peoples Program, released a study of several cases that found that the RSPO conflict resolution mechanisms had generally not provided tangible results for local communities. In 2014, the RSPO Secretariat commissioned a review of its complaints system in response to these and other critiques. The final report from the review can be found here. The secretariat is currently implementing the recommendations of this review.
Bonsucro is a multi-stakeholder organization aiming to improve the social, environmental and economic sustainability of sugarcane production. Bonsucro has adopted a code of conduct that requires member organizations to implement a set of objectives and principles, which include obeying the law and respecting human rights and labor standards.
Bonsucro has also established detailed criteria that businesses must meet in order for their products to receive certification. The criteria include demonstrating that the company has clear ownership or lease title to the land and water that it uses, and that the resources are not legitimately contested by others. It also includes a requirement for transparent and consultative processes that address impacts of new plantations through environmental and social impact assessments and the establishment of project-level grievance mechanisms.
Bonsucro has established a resolution process to handle complaints regarding a Bonsucro member’s violation of the code of conduct. The process also handles complaints against the awarding of certification for not meeting Bonsucro’s production standards.
If the community you are supporting is affected by a sugarcane plantation, you can find out whether the company is certified by searching the Bonsucro database. You can find out if any of the companies that you have identified along the investment chain are members of Bonsucro, and thus bound by the code of conduct, by looking here.
Complaints can be submitted by email. All supporting evidence must be in English. The complaint must include, among other information, proof that your organisation is a legal entity (if you are submitting it on behalf of affected people); the name of the company affecting the community; and details about the grievance. The complaint must clearly identify the exact article(s) of the Bonsucro standards that have been breached. Note that the violations must have occurred after the company received certification.
You should also include all supporting evidence to substantiate the complaint, including your impact assessment. The complaint resolution process requires written evidence that previous steps were taken to seek a resolution directly with the company. Your complaint must also set out “recommendations on clear, concise and specific actions and activities to correct problems raised in the complaint.”
Bonsucro will send the details of the complaint to the company and provide it with an opportunity to respond to the allegations. Bonsucro makes recommendations, which are sent to both parties, who each can submit an alternative proposal. If the parties cannot agree on a set of recommendations, Bonsucro will make a final decision and advise the company of the corrective action it must take and which Bonsucro will monitor. Both parties can appeal the decision. Final results are published on the Bonsucro website.
For information on how Bonsucro has been used as a part of a broader advocacy strategy to obtain remedies for local farmers displaced by a sugarcane plantation, see Box 19.
Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials
The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) brings together stakeholders concerned with ensuring the sustainability of biomaterial production and processing. Organisations can apply to become a member or gain certification if they comply with and implement the RSB’s environmental, social and economic principles and criteria.
Principle 6, for example, requires biofuel operations to ensure the human right to adequate food. Principle 12 requires biofuel operations to respect existing formal and informal land rights and land use rights. Companies must secure the free, prior and informed consent when negotiating agreements or compensation for the use of land for biofuel operations.
Biomaterials include biofuels that can be sourced from products such as sugarcane, corn and soy. You can find out whether the company or a buyer along the investment chain is a member of RSB here and whether it is certified by RSB here.
RSB requires that certified companies, certifiers and accreditation bodies all have their own grievance processes in place. You must first try to resolve the grievance directly with the certified company. If the company process fails to resolve the grievance, communities can file a formal grievance with the certification body or RSB secretariat, depending on the type of grievance. Complaints must be filed within one year of the event that caused the problem.
Among other information, complaints must include basic information about your organisation; details and evidence of the grievance; expected outcomes; and evidence of the steps already taken to resolve the grievance directly. Complainants can request anonymity.
If the grievance is admissible, a grievance manager conducts an investigation or nominates someone to do so, based on written materials from both parties. The investigator may also want to interview you and community representatives and may also want to conduct a site visit. If the company fails to cooperate, the certifying body or RSB can suspend certification. The investigator prepares a written report with findings and recommendations within 90 days of receipt of the formal grievance. Either party can appeal the findings within 30 days.
More information on submitting a complaint and the process can be found here.
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development National Contact Points
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises define standards for socially and environmentally responsible corporate behavior. The OECD guidelines are recommendations from governments to multinational companies that are operating in or from their countries. They provide guidance for responsible business conduct in a number of areas.
For cases involving adverse impacts on land and natural resource rights, several of of OECD’s guidelines may be relevant, including those on the human rights and the environmental responsibilities of business. Guidelines on due diligence — the company’s assessment of risk and system to address these risks — and information disclosure may also be relevant to the case. Consumer protection guidelines may also be relevant where, for example, the business or another company along the investment chain advertises itself as respecting human rights and has failed to do so.
While the OECD guidelines do not legally bind companies, adhering governments are required to ensure that they are implemented and observed. Among other requirements, governments must establish national contact points to receive and handle complaints, which are called specific instances.
If the business managing the project or another company along the investment chain is headquartered in one of the OECD member or adhering countries, you can bring a complaint to the national contact point in that country. You can find the contact details for national contact points in each country here.
Your complaint should explain how the company failed to meet the standards set by the guidelines and provide evidence to substantiate your claims. You should also explain what outcome the community is seeking and what process with which you would like the national contact point to assist, such as mediation, fact-finding, assessing compliance or issuing recommendations. Here is a template that you can use for writing a complaint.
Once the national contact point receives a complaint, it makes an initial assessment about its validity and relevance to the guidelines. The contact point may require further information from you as it makes this assessment. It then seeks to bring the community and the company together for mediation. If mediation fails, the national contact point may make an assessment of violations and issue recommendations.
The quality and effectiveness of national contact points vary widely and also changes over time, depending on the individuals working there. In some successful cases, complaints have resulted in mediated agreements between companies and communities, including the payment of compensation. In other cases, national contact points have been very slow or simply ignored complaints altogether, and some have shown bias towards the company.
It is important to seek the advice of experienced organizations that have submitted complaints to the relevant national contact point to make sure it’s a worthwhile use of your organization’s resources.
OECD Watch, a global civil society network, is an excellent resource for further information and advice on filing a complaint to a national contact point. OECD Watch provides extensive and clear information and an online case check service to assist potential complainants in deciding whether to move forward with the process.
You can find a sample complaint here.
Development Bank Accountability Mechanisms
If you have identified an international development bank in your investment chain, there is a good chance that it has its own accountability mechanism. This can make a strong pressure point. These accountability mechanisms are typically mandated to address complaints from people who claim to be harmed by projects that are financed by the international development bank. In most cases, the accountability mechanisms are theoretically independent from the bank’s management, and some report directly to the bank’s board of directors.
Most of these accountability mechanisms have two functions: 1) a dispute resolution, or problem-solving, function and 2) a compliance function. The dispute resolution function usually aims to mediate or facilitate negotiations between the parties, or to support other voluntary processes to resolve grievances. The compliance function typically assesses whether or not the bank has complied with its own social and environmental safeguard policies, and whether failure to comply has caused or contributed to the harms suffered by the complainants.
Some accountability mechanisms also make recommendations on how to remedy the harms, but it is always up to the board of directors and/or the management to accept and implement those recommendations. In many cases, even where the accountability mechanism makes strong findings of non-compliance and issues a solid set of recommendations that communities agree with, the bank does not effectively implement these on the ground. This section explains the need for strategic lobbying and other forms of advocacy during the accountability process to pressure the bank and its clients to actually take remedial action.
The accountability mechanisms of two prominent development banks are explained in more detail below. Links to information on others can be found here.
The International Finance Corporation’s Compliance Advisory Ombudsman
The Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) is the recourse mechanism for people that have been or fear they will be adversely affected by a project supported by the International Finance Corporation. If you have identified the International Finance Corporation as one of the financiers of the project — either by directly funding a project or indirectly financing it through a bank or other financial institution — you can bring a complaint to the CAO.
The CAO also accepts complaints from people affected by projects that have received political risk insurance (such as risk of war) from another arm of the World Bank Group called the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. You can search for projects or companies funded by the agency here.
The following discussion focuses on the International Finance Corporation, since complaints against it are more common.
The CAO is very accessible compared to other accountability mechanisms. The eligibility requirements are easy to satisfy, and the CAO provides a short, simple template letter of complaint on its website. The CAO does not require supporting evidence to be submitted along with the complaint.
However, if you submit a clear, detailed and strong complaint with supporting evidence such as findings of an impact assessment, you are more likely to be successful, for several reasons. First, you and the community will be more prepared to engage with the process with clear information about the facts and impacts. Second, like all grievance mechanisms, the CAO process is only as good as the people working there and their understanding of the situation. If you give them clear detailed information, they can do a better job of trying to resolve the problems or assess compliance with the International Finance Corporation’s policies. Third, the bank often responds to complaints to the CAO with a strong defence of its actions and that of its clients. If you decide to use the compliance function, which is explained below, the bank’s lawyers will write a response to your complaint. If your complaint is well written and backed by evidence, it will be harder for the the bank to refute or discredit the claims.
Your complaint should clearly explain the harms suffered or anticipated due to the International Finance Corporation’s project, along with the remedies and other outcomes sought. If the community wants to use the compliance function of the CAO, it is advisable for the complaint to also set out which policies and procedures have been breached. Remember that the CAO will assess compliance of the International Finance Corporation only — not its clients — so your complaint should refer to failures of the bank to fulfil its responsibilities under the policy and guidelines available here. In general, the applicable policies are those that were in force at the time the International Finance Corporation made its investment.
Complaints to the CAO can be submitted by email.
An example of a complaint to the IFC can be found here.
If your complaint meets the eligibility criteria, first the CAO’s ombudsman will discuss the complaint with all parties to assess whether they may be able to work together to reach a mutually agreeable solution (for example, through mediation) using the ombudsman function. If the community or the company does not wish to enter into a mediation or negotiation process, or the negotiation process is ultimately not successful, the complaint will be sent to compliance to assess whether the bank’s social and environmental policies have been breached and whether a full compliance audit is warranted.
See this section for a discussion of the pros and cons of using the dispute resolution process versus the compliance function.
Further information on the CAO process can be found on its website.
The Asian Development Bank’s Accountability Mechanism
If you have identified the Asian Development Bank as one of the financiers of your project, including indirectly through a financial institution, you may be able to bring a complaint to the Accountability Mechanism (AM). At least two people who are “directly, materially, and adversely” affected by a bank-supported project can submit a complaint.
Before submitting a complaint, the community must make a good-faith effort to address the grievances with the bank’s representative office in your country or the department in charge of the project. This effort, such as sending letters setting out your concerns and holding meetings with the bank, should be described in the complaint letter, or the AM will reject your complaint.
A complaint form and sample letter are available here. While this form is all that is necessary, the more detail you can provide about the harms suffered or anticipated, the harder it will be for the Asian Development Bank to refute your claims. If the community wants to use the compliance function of the AM, it is advisable for the complaint to also set out which sections of the bank’s safeguard policy have been breached. The current Safeguards Policy Statement, adopted by the bank in July 2009, is available here. (Remember that the applicable policies are those that were in force at the time the Asian Development Bank approved its grant or loan).
Complaints to the AM can be submitted via email.
An sample complaint found here.
The complaints receiving officer will ask you whether you choose for the complaint to be dealt with by the Office of the Special Facilitator, the AM’s problem-solving function, which facilitates dialogue or mediation, or if it should be immediately sent to the Compliance Review Panel to assess the bank’s compliance with its policies. Eligibility of your complaint will be then assessed by the relevant function, and they may request further information or a phone meeting in making the assessment.
Further information on the AM process can be found here.
Other Development Bank Accountability Mechanisms
Other multilateral and bilateral development banks also have accountability mechanisms. Below is a list of the mechanisms and where you can find information about each.
- The African Development Bank’s accountability mechanism is called the Independent Review Mechanism. It handles complaints through two functions: problem-solving (mediation) and compliance review (investigation).
- The Inter-American Development Bank’s accountability mechanism is called the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism. It has two processes: the consultation phase and the compliance review phase.
- The European Investment Bank’s accountability mechanism is called the Complaints Mechanism. It carries out both compliance reviews and, in appropriate cases, mediation and other types of collaborative resolution processes.
- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s accountability mechanism is called the Project Complaint Mechanism. It has a compliance review function and a problem-solving initiative.
Compliance Investigation or Dispute Resolution?
When using the grievance mechanism of a development bank, you will need to help the communities you represent decide whether to try the dispute resolution function (sometimes called problem solving) or go straight to the compliance review function. Most development bank accountability mechanisms offer both functions. While in some cases the dispute resolution function must be tried first, in most cases the community will be able to decide which one to begin with.
- The dispute resolution function typically facilitates dialogue or mediation between the community on the one hand and the company and/or the development bank and/or other relevant parties, such as the government, on the other hand. Members of the dispute resolution function can also conduct fact-finding research about the situation. They do not make any judgments about the complaint but instead attempt to facilitate a resolution of the problems by mutual agreement of all parties. The community, company and other relevant parties must all agree to participate in this process for it to work. Any of the parties can disengage from the process at any time, which will bring it to an end.
- The compliance function acts more like a court, although decisions are not binding. Members of this function assess whether the development bank has failed to comply with its policies and whether this has caused the harms suffered by the community. They typically conduct an initial appraisal of the case to decide whether a full assessment is warranted. If they conduct a full compliance assessment, they review all relevant documentation, conduct interviews, and usually visit the community and project site. They produce a report with findings on policy compliance. In the case of the Asian Development Bank, they also make recommendations, which both parties have a chance to comment on before a final draft is sent to the board of directors. The board must adopt the recommendations for them to bind the bank. In the case of the CAO’s compliance function, the report is sent to the International Finance Corporation (or Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency), which prepares a response that should set out an action plan to address the findings of non-compliance. In both cases, the compliance functions monitor the situation until the issues are addressed. The entire process will usually take more than one year.
If the community thinks that it may be possible to negotiate with the relevant parties to reach a solution, then it may be worth trying the dispute resolution function first. If the community chooses this option and hopes to reach an agreement through negotiation to resolve the grievances, it is very important to support the community through this process since there is usually a considerable power imbalance between the parties. You may need to train community members in negotiation skills and support them through the various stages and decision-making processes. (For more information on negotiation training, see here.)
It may be strategic to use other forms of advocacy during the process if the company is not negotiating fairly. Success will ultimately depend on the willingness of the company and other relevant parties to reach an agreement with which the community is satisfied. This is only likely to happen if the company believes that addressing the problems and settling the dispute is in its own interests. This may mean making it clear to the company that you will engage in other forms of advocacy if it does not negotiate fairly. Various forms of advocacy that you can use are discussed in here.
The dispute resolution process is voluntary, so if negotiations fail, or if the community is not satisfied, they can decide to stop the process and request that the complaint be transferred to the compliance function. Your role during a compliance review will be to ensure the community understands the process and to support it during site visits by the compliance panel. You should also provide the compliance panel with any additional information or evidence that emerges.
You should be prepared to lobby the executive directors and/or highest level of management of the development bank for a good outcome once the compliance function has finalized its report. You can ask NGOs experienced in this type of lobbying to help you through this process (see the list below).
It is also highly advisable that you support the community in other forms of advocacy at the same time. Using accountability mechanisms is a slow process. Even if you end up with a strong final report, there needs to be pressure on the development bank to actually implement a plan to resolve the community’s grievances. Since this will almost always require the involvement of the development bank’s client – the business managing the project, its parent company and/or the government – your advocacy should also aim to get these actors to engage constructively in implementing the plan. The next section explains other forms of advocacy that you can use in your strategy.
In addition to organizations in your own country, the following may be able to provide advice and assistance in using non-judicial grievance mechanisms:
Box 18: Case Study
Nicaraguan Sugarcane Workers Pursue Remedy through IFC Ombudsman
In 2008, ASOCHIVIDA, an association of former sugarcane workers in Nicaragua, filed a complaint with the the International Finance Corporation’s CAO. The workers’ former employer had received a loan from the bank two years before in order to extend its sugarcane plantations and build an ethanol plant. The members of ASOCHIVIDA, who at that time numbered 600, were all suffering from an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, which they believed was caused by their working conditions. The Center for International Environmental Law and, subsequently, the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (known by its Dutch acronym, SOMO) have supported ASOCHIVIDA throughout the process.
After receiving a complaint, the CAO can either try to convene a mediation process between the complainants and International Finance Corporation’s client to try and resolve the conflict or undertake an investigation to determine whether the bank complied with its policies and procedures. In this case, ASOCHIVIDA and the bank’s client agreed to participate in a mediation focusing on two issues: measures to improve the health and social services for those with the disease and their families, and an independent study to determine the cause of the disease.
The mediation began in the 2009. One of the first commitments ASOCHIVIDA secured was a monthly provision of food for two years, which they subsequently succeeded in extending to cover their increasing membership. Those with the disease are unable to continue working and therefore have no way of providing for their families. The food distribution allowed them to meet their basic needs.
Also, among the initial agreements was the selection of Boston University School of Public Health to undertake a multi-year study to determine the cause of the disease. Over the next several years, as the study was under way, ASOCHIVIDA secured additional benefits for its members, including: a microcredit facility and building to use it; new homes with adequate hygienic conditions to receive in-home medical treatment; and educational supplies for the children of those with the disease. Most recently, ASOCHIVIDA secured a donation to significantly improve the health facilities available to their members, which now number more than 2,300.
As of 2015, the cause or causes of the disease were still not completely understood, but Boston University significantly advanced the scientific understanding of it and continues its research in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The research found evidence that one or more risk factors are occupational, including heat stress and dehydration.
According to Kristen Genovese, Senior Researcher at SOMO, it is difficult to characterize the results of the CAO process. “It has provided the members of ASOCHIVIDA with improved healthcare and economic assistance. However, the need is much greater,” she said. Genovese also regrets that the process did not succeed in holding the World Bank Group accountable for its role in this situation.
“Throughout the last seven years, the International Finance Corporation has never taken any responsibility for its failures. Worse yet, it misunderstands and mischaracterizes Boston University’s findings in order to justify financing other sugarcane companies in the region,” she said.
This case demonstrates both the potential of a mediation process to secure tangible remedies for aggrieved communities as well as the limitations. For more information, see this report by Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.