Six actions for IAMs and GRMs to build trust and keep it

  • Authorship
    Lalanath de Silva
    Head of the IRM
  • Article type Blog
  • Publication date 28 Jun 2022

In this blog, we outline six actions that Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs) and Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRMs) can take to build trust with complainants and other stakeholders and ensure they remain trustworthy and reliable institutions for the public.

1. Responding to complaints promptly: Nothing creates a better impression about an IAM or GRM with complainants and other stakeholders than timely responsiveness. If an IAM or GRM receives a reminder about a correspondence or inquiry, that is a sign that responsiveness may be an issue. A complainant is likely going through a period of anxiety and stress over their complaint and IAMs/GRMs can provide a sense of assurance by responding promptly and keeping the complainant regularly updated on the progress of the case.

2. Cushioning ineligible complaints with good public relations: A recent study by Accountability Counsel revealed that a significant proportion of complaints filed with IAMs get thrown out at the very outset due to ineligibility. IAMs typically have a set of requirements in place for a complaint to be eligible, which are often publicly available on their website. However, a rejection of a complaint due to not meeting eligibility requirements can be tremendously discouraging to project affected people. There are two potential ways to alleviate this disappointment. First, IAMs and GRMs can reach out to complainants before the eligibility decision to obtain needed information and explain the eligibility process to help educate complainants and manage their expectations. Second, if a complaint has been declared ineligible, IAMs and GRMs can follow up with the complainant(s) and provide ample justification for the decision and reiterate their availability to address future complaints. Surveying complainant satisfaction about an IAM’s processes can also help identify areas for improvement. At the IRM, through a self-assessment using a tool proposed by the UN Human Rights Commission, we found that we don’t pay enough attention to gathering information from complainants about their levels of satisfaction. Many IAMs and GRMs already practice good public relations and proactive information gathering, despite challenging resource and staff constraints.

3. Shortening the processing time of complaints: Recent research appears to indicate that the average complaint takes over two years to resolve. This is a long period for project affected people, often marginalised and impoverished, to wait for a remedy. Remedies that are delayed might often be as good as remedies that are denied. There are many reasons why complaints can take up to two years to process. It could take complainants and stakeholders a long time to respond to information requests from an IAM or GRM, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the process. Resource constraints and procurement rules in hiring experts, mediators, and interpreters (translators) can also delay the process. There have also been occasions when IAMs and GRMs have not been able to keep to the deadlines prescribed in their own operating procedures, particularly when the case is complex. To help the public, and especially the complainant, better understand the status of a given complaint, it might help to publicly share the latest information relating to the case and the reasons for any delays.

4. Providing fair and just remedy: During the launch of the recent seminal OHCHR report on Remedy in Development Finance, many speakers lamented the failure of international financial institutions (IFIs) to provide a tangible and meaningful remedy to complainants, even when an IAM or GRM had made robust and solid findings of non-compliance with environmental and social safeguards and found resulting harm to complainants. Failure of the financial institution to provide remedy has been well documented in recent reviews.

Failure to provide remedy and delays in remedial action can be hugely discouraging factors for complainants and CSOs. As a result, project affected people might feel that filing a complaint with an IAM is futile, wasteful and useless. It is therefore critical that IFIs and development finance institutions (DFI) set aside the needed resources and make firm commitments to follow through on IAM and GRM findings and recommendations. Otherwise, just like greenwashing – setting up and operating an IAM or GRM becomes “accountability-washing” or more aptly, “remedy-washing”!

5. Protecting and defending independence: If project-affected people and civil society are unable to believe that an IAM is independent of the parent institution, they will not trust it with their complaints. It is therefore crucial that Board members and management staff respect the independence of the IAM/GRM. Attempts to undermine independence can take many forms, including administrative delays and obstacles placed in the path of IAMs and GRMs. On the other hand, it is also important for the IAM or GRM itself to protect and defend its independence. Independence is strengthened when an IAM or GRM is allowed to command greater standing within the DFI. This messaging must generally come from the Board or President to whom the IAM or GRM reports, signalling to management that recommendations and findings of the IAM or GRM are taken seriously and relied on as guidance. In turn, DFIs must insist on adequate remedial measures by management to properly remedy non-compliance and harm. This includes the decision of Boards or Presidents to accept the recommendation of IAMs or GRMs on eligibility and compliance reviews alike.

As part of defending and protecting independence, IAM or GRM staff must consider findings and recommendations very carefully and ensure they are well supported by evidence. Sending draft reports to management and complainants allows an IAM or GRM to get feedback on potential errors and to address those before submitting reports to the Board or President. However, once this due diligence is completed, IAMs and GRMs must stand by their recommendations and findings. Similarly, the terms of reference for an investigation must be finalised through a consultative process.  Once finalised, it must be defended by the IAM and GRM, whether criticism comes from within or from outside the DFI.  Most importantly, DFIs must provide for and support both the structural and personal staff independence of the IAM or GRM.

6. Remaining reactive despite Covid-19: Covid-19 has caused societal disruptions across the world, particularly in the developing world. Project implementation has significantly slowed down and project affected people have had to deal with multiple challenges such as loss of income, death of breadwinners to Covid-19, transportation disruptions caused by lockdowns and travel restrictions, and the lack of internet facilities to work virtually from home. Most project affected people are farmers, fishermen, workers involved in manual labour, female-headed households, and mothers. These occupations demand physical presence and activity, exposing them to infection and a decrease in household income. In result, undertaking the filing of a complaint with an IAM can easily take a back seat while project affected people deal with the more pressing economic and health challenges presented by Covid-19.  

Additionally, filing a complaint with an IAM can be stressful and demanding on any complainant, including CSOs that may be helping with the process. Covid-19 has also contributed to delays in the ability of IAMs to process complaints because of travel disruptions, lockdowns, and quarantine requirements. Despite these challenges, IAMs and GRMs must remain responsive and ready to process complaints once they are filed.

Moving forward

To gain the trust of potential complainants and project affected people as a reliable and trustworthy avenue to file a grievance, IAMs will need to ensure they remain accessible, effective and independent. By building a community of practice with high ethical standards that address the six key issues above, the IAM community can continue to thrive and properly serve the individuals and communities that have been negatively impacted by DFI projects. The advice contained in this blog for DFI Boards and Presidents is equally important to ensure that IAMs and DFI are provided with the resources they need to accomplish the Herculean task they have been entrusted with.

Article prepared by Lalanath de Silva


Photo © L. Elías / Profonanpe