Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Grievance Mechanisms
Multi-stakeholder sustainability initiatives are associations that bring together companies and civil society, with the stated goal of making business activities more socially and environmentally responsible. They often engage companies that are involved in the same industry or are producers, sellers and buyers of a particular product or commodity, such as aluminum or palm oil. Other multi-stakeholder initiatives bring together companies and other actors based on the mutual environmental or social impacts of their activities, such as impacts on forests or labor conditions. Companies typically engage in these initiatives though membership, which usually requires them to agree to follow the initiative’s code of conduct and other policies, 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 people and the environment. As a result of this consumer demand, companies are increasingly concerned about labeling their products as certified by sustainability 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 their members or of companies they have certified. Complaints need to demonstrate that a company’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 companies 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 companies from negative publicity. For more information on the shortcomings of using multi-stakeholder initiatives in corporate accountability advocacy, see Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity’s report, Not Fit for Purpose.
If the company operating the project causing harms or one of the companies along its investment or supply chain are members of a relevant multi-stakeholder initiative, you may be able to file a complaint with its grievance mechanism. However, before you decide to file a complaint with a multi-stakeholder initiative, it is worth asking the advice of other organizations that have recently had experience engaging with it to decide whether it is worthwhile and how to make the best use of it.