GRAM Community of Practice Gains Practical Knowledge

  • Article type News & articles
  • Publication date 23 Aug 2021

If you were forced out of your family home to make way for a new development project and were not adequately compensated, what would you do?

While there are many forums you could use to register your complaint, you may want to file a complaint with the grievance redress and accountability mechanism (GRAM) of the project’s parent financial institution to seek a remedy. However, what would you do if you spoke an entirely different language and didn’t have internet access? This was the case for hundreds of Haitian farmers whose land was claimed for the construction of an industrial park funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). After filing a complaint with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (MICI), these farmers faced these sorts of barriers. However, through innovative solutions proposed by MICI and participating civil society organizations, these barriers were overcome and this case reached a resolution, giving proper compensation for the loss of land and livelihood that these farmers experienced. [1]

This is a common story for many complainants, and the reality is that there will be some barriers to obtaining a remedy. However, as this case has shown, there are steps that can be taken by a GRAM to reduce obstacles and ensure that it remains as open and accessible as possible.

Our most recent GRAM partnership event, hosted in July by Accountability Counsel, centered on accessibility of a Grievance Redress Mechanism (GRM) and the possibility of retaliation against complainants and witnesses. The GRAM partnership is an informal community of practice, formed to offer leadership, a learning and knowledge platform, and a meeting space to GRAMs emerging in different spheres. Issues of accessibility were addressed in presentations by colleagues from Accountability Counsel, including Stephanie Amoako, Senior Policy Associate, Robi Chacha Mosenda, Communities Associate, and Margaux Day, Policy Director, as well as Victoria Marquez-Mees, Chief Accountability Officer of the Independent Project Accountability Mechanism (IPAM) of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The presenters identified communication challenges as a key barrier to the accessibility of GRMs, whether these challenges are due to language or cultural contexts. Another difficulty in accessibility can also be due to the filing requirements themselves. Complicated procedures, high bars for a complaint to be accepted, and internet access are often an obstacle to complainants. However, there are solutions available to increase accessibility. To overcome communication barriers, GRAMs should ensure that complaints can be filed in any language as well as in different formats and submitted through different media. To overcome technical barriers, a GRAM could provide a sample complaint template, permit complaints about closed projects, and reduce the requirements for the level of detail needed in the initial complaint. By increasing the accessibility of a mechanism, the mechanism is able to hold its parent institution to account and produce better outcomes.

Sarah Dorman, Staff Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), presented on the topic of retaliation risks against complainants. Retaliation against complainants is a real concern, especially given how civic space is shrinking worldwide. A GRAM can ease a complainant’s worries and protect them through confidentiality, as well as by working with the complainants themselves to understand risks and help ensure their safety and security.

A complicating factor for many GRAMs is the limited amount of available resources, particularly as a new mechanism. The first GRAM event of the year, hosted by the IRM in April, sought to address the question of how to establish a “fit for purpose” GRAM when faced with financial constraints.  Presentations were made by (1) IRM staff, (2) Professor Arntraud Hartmann, Panel Member of the Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) of the German, French, and Dutch Development Banks, and (3) Charline Daelman, Senior Research and Development Expert of Amfori, a business association with a grievance mechanism servicing all members.

Not all GRAMs look the same and the presenters offered different GRAM models for creating a GRAM that is “fit for purpose.” While not all GRAMs might look the same, they should all be designed according to the Eight Effectiveness Criteria defined by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In its presentation, the IRM illustrated how a low or high resourced GRAM can meet four of the eight criteria, namely: legitimacy, accessibility, transparency, and being a source of continuous learning. Having fewer resources in staffing, experience, or budget does not mean a GRAM will be ineffective. Rather, a GRAM should adapt and use some basic solutions to overcome these resource limitations. For example, a GRAM could publish information at the project site as well as on its website and maintain a basic complaints register.  It can also allow input on GRAM design and policy revisions, and use independent consultants and non-project staff for assessing project impacts.

For high-impact projects, however, these solutions may not be enough. One way to potentially overcome this challenge is to establish a joint GRAM. The Independent Complaints Mechanism and Amfori are good examples of joint mechanisms. Professor Hartmann of the ICM and Charline Daelman of Amfori spoke about the structure, benefits, and drawbacks of using this model. By combining the resources of multiple development banks and serving them with an external panel, the ICM has found an independent, flexible, and cost-effective method of processing complaints. Amfori provides an example of how a joint grievance mechanism targeted to the private sector can remain efficient and reduce or eliminate the business costs of conflict. While there are some difficulties, mainly in terms of capacity and ability to grow, this model can be replicated and provide an alternative solution for finance institutions that find themselves short on resources but with high-impact projects.

The previous two GRAM partnership events have done an excellent job in providing practical advice in building a fit for purpose GRAM and in opening up access to them and ensuring complainants are not retaliated against.  We are looking forward to our next webinar. The next event will be hosted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in the autumn. We are excited to learn more about grievance redress and accountability from fellow practitioners.


[1] You can read more on the Haiti Caracol Industrial Park case on the MICI website.