Can I Make a Complaint to Internal Grievance Mechanism in a Business?

There are alternatives to going to court to hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses and getting remedies. One of these options is making a complaint to “Internal Corporate Grievance Mechanisms”.

These mechanisms can either be used before, alongside or after a court case.

  • These informal grievance mechanisms are generally much cheaper and less time consuming than going to court
  • BUT they do not provide a legal remedy, that is a remedy that can be enforced by a court of law.

Consider the following checklist if you want to make a complaint to the international corporate grievance mechanism of a business:

Action4Justice - Corporate Grievance Mechanisms Checklist

Corporate Codes of Conduct

Corporate codes of conduct or codes of ethics are public statements by a business setting out its ethical values and principles.

They are adopted by the business voluntarily and their content varies for each business.

They are not legally binding. But, where the company’s brand depends on it being a responsible business, alleged breaches of its code of conduct can hurt its reputation and profitability.

Corporate codes of conduct may include:

  • Matters of legal compliance (e.g. with environmental laws and a prohibition on bribery)
  • Labour, human rights and environmental standards as relevant to the business (even if these are not legally binding on the business)
  • A business may have a separate supplier code of conduct or require suppliers to comply with the terms of its own code of conduct.

Check if the business that has impacted your human rights has a code of conduct.

Key Resource: The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre Database on Codes of Conduct

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has a database of companies’ codes of conduct which expressly refer to human rights.

Use this database to see if the business that has affected you has a code of conduct with standards that are relevant to your situation.

In line with the UNGPs, businesses should also have a human rights policy expressing their commitment to respect human rights:

UNGPs Principle 19
“As the basis for embedding their responsibility to respect human rights, business enterprises should express their commitment to meet this responsibility through a statement of policy that:

(a) Is approved at the most senior level of the business enterprise;
(b) Is informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise;
(c) Stipulates the enterprise’s human rights expectations of personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to its operations, products or services;
(d) Is publicly available and communicated internally and externally to all personnel, business partners and other relevant parties;
(e) Is respected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business enterprise.»

Although codes of conduct are not binding, they can be used to hold businesses to account.

Practical Tip: Using Codes of Conduct in Legal Claims

If you are taking a civil claim against a business and arguing, they they breached the duty of care they owe to you or another law, evidence that they have breached their own code of conduct can strengthen your case.

OR you could complain to an internal corporate grievance mechanism.


Does the Business Have an Internal Corporate Grievance Mechanism?

If you think a business has breached their code of conduct, you may be able to make a complaint to an grievance mechanism within the business.

UNGPs Principle 29
“Business enterprises should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted.”

Company internal grievance mechanisms provide a way for individuals whose human rights have been negatively impacted by a business’ activities to make a complaint to the business directly.

  • This can lead to internal investigations, the identification of human rights impacts, and the provision of remedies to people negatively impacted.
  • This can also help businesses identify areas of their operations that potentially cause negative human rights impacts and encourage best practice.

According to the UNGPs Principle 31, an effective grievance mechanism should be:

  • Legitimate by being accountable for the fair conduct of grievance processes.
  • Predictable, by providing a clear and known procedure, including time frames, the process used, the outcomes available and how outcomes are monitored.
  • Equitable, by seeking to ensure that aggrieved parties have access to sources of information, advice and expertise necessary to use the mechanisms.
  • Transparent by keeping parties to a grievance informed about its progress, and providing information about the mechanism’s performance.
  • Rights Compatible by ensuring that outcomes and remedies accord with internationally recognised human rights.
  • Known to all stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended.
  • Provide adequate assistance for those who may face barriers to access.
  • Based on engagement and dialogue by consulting the stakeholder groups on their design and performance, and focusing on dialogue as the means to address and resolve grievances.

Sometimes, informal grievance mechanisms don’t meet these standards. They can be weak and may be influenced by the businesses they are supposed to hold accountable.

Example: Complaint About Acacia Mining’s Grievance Mechanism
The NGO Raid wrote to Acacia Mining to raise concerns that the company’s grievance mechanism did not meet fulfil the minimum criteria set out in the UNGPs, alleging that

“It lacks human rights benchmarks, lacks transparency, lacks independence, provides very limited legal assistance for an overly legalistic process, and creates confusion about whether it will accept complaints about police abuse at the mine site, among other problems.”

If informal grievance mechanisms do not meet these standards, it may be best to use a different mechanism.


What Should You Include in Your Complaint?

The complaints processes in different informal grievance mechanisms will vary, but you should generally include the following:

  • Information about the impacts that you have suffered, supported by evidence.
  • How the relevant business activities have caused the impacts you have suffered, supported by evidence.
  • Whether the business knew about the impacts of its activities.
  • Any action the business has or has not taken to address these impacts.
  • An analysis of how the business’ activities are not consistent with, for example, national civil/criminal laws, international human rights standards and/or the business’ code of conduct.
  • What outcome you would like to achieve from the complaint.

For more information on evidence gathering, see “How Can I Bring a Civil Claim Against a Business in National Courts?

Also, if you are making a complaint, you can refer to the information in “Do Businesses Have Human Rights Responsibilities?”.

Key Resource: SOMO’s 10 Steps to Filing a Complaint

SOMO, an NGO specialising on corporate accountability, has a helpful guide on the 10 steps you should take if you want to file a complaint using an internal grievance mechanism.

It takes you through the steps of:

  1. Considering whether to file a complaint
  2. Identifying the responsible business
  3. Identifying the relevant grievance mechanisms
  4. Identifying the desired outcomes
  5. Choosing the best grievance mechanisms
  6. Preparing a complaint
  7. Writing a complaint
  8. Filing a complaint
  9. Engaging in the process
  10. Following up on a complaint

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