Lobbying During the Accountability Mechanism Process

Experience shows that non-judicial accountability mechanisms are most effective when complainants remain actively engaged in lobbying the institutions and other actors involved before and after filing their complaint. Lobbying can take different forms, including letters, face-to-face meetings and events that engage decision-makers directly.


It is often most effective if affected community members do the lobbying themselves with support from allied organizations. As an advisor, you can help community members draft their letters and set up and prepare for meetings. However, it is important that the affected people are at the center of the advocacy. In some situations, solidarity actions can be effective, such as a “sign-on” letter that you can prepare and ask members of your networks to endorse in support of the community’s message.

Some accountability mechanisms, such as the Bonsucro and Asian Development Bank mechanisms, require that complainants first try to address their grievances directly with the operational staff of the institution. Before you help community members file a complaint, make sure that they write to the senior management of the relevant institution outlining their grievances and the actions that they want them to take. Provide a deadline to respond, which will indicate that the community intends to file an official complaint to the accountability mechanism if they don’t get a satisfactory and timely response. Sometimes the threat of filing a complaint can be just as effective, or even more so, than the actual filing of the complaint in getting the institution to take action. If this doesn’t work, you will have the paper trail that you need to take the matter to the accountability mechanism.

Once a complaint has been filed and found eligible, the board of directors of the institution will be notified. At this point, it may be a good idea to write to the board directly to appeal to them to take certain actions, such as withholding new financing for the project until the investigation is completed or the dispute is resolved. They are unlikely to take any action while an accountability process is under way, but by writing to them and placing demands upon them at this stage, you will raise the profile of the case.

In dispute resolution processes, you may find that the company is not negotiating in good faith or is simply unwilling to go far enough in redressing the harm that it has caused. In those situations, it may be necessary to lobby the senior management or boards of the financial institutions, investors, or multi-stakeholder initiatives to put pressure on the company to negotiate fairly.

It’s also possible that the community will be unsatisfied with the way that the accountability mechanism is functioning. As discussed here, not all mechanisms function effectively. You may find that the staff is biased or incompetent, or the process is just taking too long. In these situations, you should try to address your concerns first with the chairperson or the most senior officers of the accountability mechanism. If that doesn’t work, you should write to the board of directors of the institution outlining your concerns.

In the case of a compliance investigation, you should be prepared to lobby the board of directors and/or highest level of management of the institution once the investigation has been completed. It is advisable that you keep the pressure on the institution throughout the investigation, since these processes are slow. Even if you end up with a strong investigation report, there needs to be pressure on the institution to actually implement a remedial action plan to resolve the community’s grievances. If your complaint is against an investor or buyer along the investment chain – and not the business directly responsible for the community’s grievances – that actor will need to pressure the business to engage constructively in implementing remedial actions.

The staff and management of international development banks, commercial banks and other actors along the investment chain are often reluctant to apply serious pressure to their business partners, even if they have violated policies. This is why it is important to communicate with the board of directors, because they are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the bank is accountable.. If the board is not responding to your advocacy, then you will need to lobby shareholders or members directly.

  • In the case of international development banks, this means lobbying the finance ministries of the governments that are shareholders.
  • In the case of a multi-stakeholder initiative, you will need to lobby the members of the association.
  • If your target is a multinational corporation, you might try lobbying the government or members of parliament of its home country.

It might not be easy for you to reach these advocacy targets alone, but if you build strong international alliances, you can get support from civil society organisations in the countries where action is needed.

Important Point

What is your key “ask?” The foundation of all lobbying is the key ask of the decision-maker you are targeting. This is the concrete action that you want the actor to take, and it should be formulated to achieve the community’s demand. For example, your key ask of the International Finance Corporation’s board of directors may be to ensure that the bank’s client (the business managing the project) adheres to the Performance Standards and meaningfully consults the affected community. Be clear about your key ask and make sure it is expressed upfront in any letters that you write and at the beginning and end of your meetings. Try to get the decision-maker to commit to taking some concrete actions towards your key ask within a specific timeframe. Then follow up regularly by email or phone to hold them to the decision-maker to her commitment.

Box 19: Case study

Lobbying the Bonsucro Multi-stakeholder Initiative

In January 2011, a Cambodian community submitted a complaint to Bonsucro against one of the founding members of the association. The community had been forcibly evicted for a sugarcane plantation that supplied the company. The complaint alleged that the company had violated the Bonsucro code of conduct by buying sugar that was produced on stolen land and failing to conduct human rights due diligence on its suppliers.

For nearly two years, the Bonsucro grievance process appeared to be stuck. The complainants followed up periodically, but they never received clear information about what was happening with their complaint. They were told only that Bonsucro had been in dialogue with the member company and had requested a time-bound remediation plan from it. Multiple deadlines had reportedly been given to the member, but these passed without any consequences.

Frustrated by Bonsucro’s apparent unwillingness to sanction the member for its failure to engage in the process, a delegation from the community and supporting NGOs, Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International, travelled to London to attend Bonsucro’s annual conference. The conference is attended mainly by Bonsucro members, including many of the leading producers, buyers and sellers of sugar. However, the event is open to anyone who pays the registration fee. The NGOs saw this as an opportunity to increase pressure on Bonsucro.

During a plenary QundefinedA session of the conference, the delegation publicly exposed the member company’s violations of the Bonsucro code of conduct and the failure of the association’s board of directors to take appropriate action. The conference organizers cut off the microphone, but the sugar industry representatives in the room had heard the message. At the end of the session, the chairman of the Bonsucro board invited the delegation from Cambodia to a private meeting to discuss the case and hear directly from the community representative. They were told that the board would be meeting the following day to make a decision about how to proceed with the case.

Shortly after, Bonsucro informed the the complainants that the board had agreed to request that the member company carry out an independent assessment of the fairness of compensation payments that had been made to the displaced families. This proposal was unacceptable to the complainants, because no amount of compensation was fair for land that was forcibly taken from the families. The community demand’s was that the land must be returned. They also demanded a say in the selection of any third-party assessors and in the terms of reference of the assessment.

When another two months had passed with no response, the NGOs wrote to the Bonsucro board and all of the members that had participated in the conference. The letter described the human rights violations and illegal actions carried out by the member company’s suppliers, as well as the impacts suffered by the victims. It then called upon all major companies buying sugar from the member company to conduct human rights due diligence audits of their supply chain and to insist that the member “take the measures necessary to ensure redress for all affected families whose land, homes and livelihoods have been unjustly and illegally appropriated.”

Shortly after this letter was sent, Bonsucro announced in a press release that its board had suspended the member company. The suspension means that the company is unable to benefit from membership privileges, including Bonsucro certification, and its reputation is affected. Bonsucro stated that the suspension would remain in place until the company 1) carries out the third-party review of their supplier’s compliance with the company’s code of conduct, or 2) reaches a resolution of the dispute to the satisfaction of both parties.

This was a major victory for the community. This case study demonstrates the importance of actively lobbying the institution and its members to ensure the grievance process is moving forward.

For more information, please see the Bonsucro board’s decision from July 8, 2013.