Engaging Advocacy Targets
Once the community’s message is ready, it is usually a good idea to first communicate directly with the business managing the project and/or its parent company.
Making a good-faith attempt to address the grievances directly with the business or other actor along the investment chain is required as a first step in the advocacy process. Communities should do this before filing complaints with grievance and accountability mechanisms. It is usually also a good idea to try communicating directly with the business or other actor before using other forms of advocacy.
Start with a Letter or Email
Often the best method for initial communications is through a letter or email, so you can clearly set out all the important information to support your argument and demands. The community may ask you to help prepare a letter or to write and send a letter from your organization on the community’s behalf.
The letter should include:
- Who you are and whom you are representing. You should explain that the community is affected by the business’s activities.
- The main problems faced by the community as a result of the business’s activities. If you have already prepared your impact assessment, you can include a summary of the main findings. (You may want to attach the report as an annex and invite the business to comment on it. Alternatively, you may decide to wait to present the report at a meeting.)
- If the business has violated laws, policies or standards that it has committed to, you can include a summary of this analysis in your letter.
- The community’s message. You may decide to include the list of community demands, or you may decide that in the circumstances it is more strategic to simply request a meeting in order to discuss the situation and how to resolve the community’s grievances.
- A request for a meeting with the business and/or parent company.
- A deadline for a response. Sometimes it can be strategic to mention in the letter what you will do next if you do not receive a satisfactory response from the company by the deadline. Possible consequences include notifying investors or buyers connected to the company, publicizing the problems through the media, or submitting an official complaint to a grievance mechanism. However, it is also generally a good idea to try to keep things cordial at this stage, so that the business managers are more likely to engage in a constructive dialogue rather than become defensive.
If there is no adequate response to your letter by the deadline that you set, the next move could be to send similar letters to relevant government agencies or key actors along the investment chain based on your analysis of pressure points. For example, if you have identified a multilateral development bank, such as the International Finance Corporation, or a major private investor that is bound by certain policies or standards and could have considerable influence over the business managing the project, you may decide to send a letter to this actor next.
Make sure that you clearly set out your understanding of the actor’s relationship to the project. You should also mention the relevant policies or standards that you believe have been violated and summarize the main findings of your impact assessment. Again, attach your impact assessment if possible.
Prepare for the First Meeting
If the business managing the project or one of the other actors along the investment chain agrees to a meeting, you will need to work with the community to prepare. First meetings can be intimidating. Often, community representatives have never attended a meeting like this before. They may feel sensitive about the power imbalance between themselves and the company or financial institution.
It is important to make sure that community representatives are prepared to explain the community’s situation and present their message. If possible, you should also be prepared to give a presentation of your impact assessment findings. You also need to decide with the community whether the representatives should present all of the community’s demands in the first meeting or if it would be more strategic to try to get the company to agree to a structured negotiation or mediation process first. This will depend on the circumstances, including the complexity and magnitude of the impacts and the expected responsiveness of the business. If you are meeting with an investor or buyer only, and not the business managing the project, the purpose of the meeting will usually be to convince the investor or buyer to persuade the business to change its behaviour. Your preparation for the meeting should reflect your objectives.
You can also ask questions at the meeting in order to obtain more information about the business, its operations and plans, the investors and buyers, and the relationships between these actors. The business may or may not be willing to answer your questions, but it can be helpful to prepare a list and try to obtain as much information as possible.
Meetings may take place in the company’s (or investor’s or buyer’s) office. Alternatively, the community may prefer to invite company representatives to their village to hold the meeting. The community may feel more comfortable holding the meeting on their territory. This would allow the company representatives to come and see for themselves the community’s circumstances and the impacts they are facing. A third option is a neutral venue, for example an NGO office or a private meeting room in a hotel or restaurant.
The community will also need to decide how many community members should join the meeting. They may decide that only the community representatives should go, or that several other people may want to join. A large presence of the community can increase the community’s confidence and be effective for a first meeting, even if not everyone has an opportunity to speak. Too many people, however, can make the meeting unmanageable.
Consider who else you would like to invite to join the meeting to increase the community’s confidence and power. For example, there may be other civil society organizations that could provide support to the community.
It may also be a good idea to suggest to the company that you use a neutral facilitator for the meeting. A facilitator can be helpful if you think the company will try to intimidate the community or not listen to what the community has to say. A neutral facilitator should be someone who both the community and company trust and respect. The facilitator does not make any decisions or give advice to either party. He or she sets the meeting agenda in consultation with both parties, ensures the meeting runs smoothly and that both parties have a fair opportunity to talk. The facilitator should also help the parties agree on next steps at the end of the meeting.
Before the meeting, you should think about what your next advocacy move will be if the meeting is not successful. If you know what your advocacy options are and have a plan for your next move, you will feel more confident in the meeting. Depending on how the meeting is going, it may also be strategic to let the company (or investor or buyer) know what you will do if they refuse to engage constructively. Warning the company that you intend to go to the media or file an official complaint can be effective but can also make the company more defensive, so you will need to use your instincts.
What Now? Some Next Steps
If you have a successful meeting, you may end up with an agreement to meet again to discuss details of a resolution, or to visit the community’s village together to show the company representatives the impacts. You may agree to embark on a structured negotiation or mediation process. Or even better, the business managing the project may agree to change its behaviour and remedy the harms.
Unfortunately, often it takes more than one letter and meeting to get results. Sometimes the company agrees to a negotiation – sometimes with a genuine intention to do so – but it soon becomes clear that it will not significantly change its behaviour or remedy the harms it has caused.
Often, company representatives believe that after some time, the community and NGOs supporting them will lose energy and confidence and give up the fight. They may also think that you can’t do much harm to them and – after weighing the costs and benefits or doing the right thing – decide that it is better to just ignore you and use their public relations department to deal with any negative publicity about the case until it goes away. This is why you need to be persistent in your advocacy and work with the community to develop a multi-pronged strategy that targets all the strongest pressure points in the investment chain. The next two sections will discuss how you can do this.