10 steps to filing a complaint
The step-by-step guide below to filing a complaint with a grievance mechanism provides general advice for complainants to follow.
Given the wide variety of grievance mechanisms, it is strongly advised you check the rules and procedures for each mechanism you are considering. This guidance aims to familiarise you with the types of issues you may need to consider, decisions you may need to make, activities you may need to carry out, and information you may need to document in order to file a complaint with a grievance mechanism.
- Step 1: Consider filing a complaint
- Step 2: Identify the entities causing or contributing to the harm
- Step 3: Map the grievance mechanisms that may apply
- Step 4: Identify your desired outcomes
- Step 5: Choose the appropriate grievance mechanism
- Step 6: Prepare for the complaint
- Step 7: Write the complaint
- Step 8: File the complaint
- Step 9: Engage in the process
- Step 10: Follow-up
Step 1: Consider filing a complaint
First and foremost, when considering a complaint, you should clearly identify the harm that has occurred and how one or more companies have contributed to or caused the harm. There are many strategies available to address harmful corporate practices. Filing a complaint through a grievance mechanism is one of these strategies. Others are lawsuits, shareholder actions, public campaigns and media campaigns. It is important to always consider other strategies before filing a complaint with a grievance mechanism.
Some of the advantages and limitations of non-judicial grievance mechanisms are explained here. A complaint to a grievance mechanism can also be one of several strategies pursued simultaneously. Some grievance mechanisms also address complaints about the likeliness of individuals and communities being harmed in the future. Keep in mind that non-judicial grievance mechanisms are not a substitute for taking legal action, and severe human rights abuses should still be taken to court whenever possible.
Step 2: Identify the entities causing or contributing to the harm
Identifying which corporate entity or entities may be held responsible for environmental abuses and/or human rights violations could involve researching a company’s structure and its supply chain, key investors and other business relationships.
Depending on the grievance mechanism, it is possible to file complaints against companies for their direct, as well as indirect, involvement in human rights abuse or other harmful impacts. Also, consider filing a complaint against those entities that have a responsibility for preventing harm such as a government department or a development bank supporting the project.
Step 3: Map the grievance mechanisms that may apply
Mapping grievance mechanisms that may apply to your issue includes examining each mechanism’s eligibility criteria and scope.
Also, look into grievance mechanisms that are available at the company or project levels, at financing institutions or at the national or international level. It is possible that multiple grievance mechanisms apply to your case.
Our work in human rights due diligence
SOMO’s mission is dedicated to tackling the worldwide regulatory voids that grant multinational corporations unchecked operational freedom. Our efforts encompass the vigilant oversight of global standards such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct. This vigilance is aimed at holding multinational enterprises accountable for their actions related to human rights and environmental concerns.
Step 4: Identify your desired outcomes
Before filing a complaint, it is important to identify your desired outcome, because these may influence your choice for a specific grievance mechanism over another. Examples of desired outcomes could be:
- Change the behaviour or policy of a company/institution/government
- Prevent or stop company operations and activities
- Gain compensation and remedies for affected communities and workers
- Achieve a fact-finding mission to establish violations
- Bring political attention to your case
- Raise public awareness and increase pressure on a company
- Encourage divestment in the company by investors that prioritise sustainable development and adherence to social and environmental standards.
Step 5: Choose the appropriate grievance mechanism
Choosing the right grievance mechanism to file a complaint with involves familiarising yourself with each mechanism’s specific requirements and procedures and the types of outcomes you can and cannot expect if the process is successful.
It is advisable to research how well the mechanism has functioned, how it has handled similar cases, how long the process tends to take and whether there are rules that you cannot adhere to such as confidentiality requirements. It is possible to file complaints with more than one grievance mechanism. The appropriate grievance mechanism for your case depends on a number of factors, including your resources, the desired outcome and your broader (campaign) strategy.
Step 6: Prepare for the complaint
Once you have studied the rules and procedures of the grievance mechanism you intend to use and understand what is required, it is time to prepare for the complaint. Your preparation could involve:
- Researching the corporate entities you intend to name in the complaint and their involvement in the violations
- Researching and gathering evidence on the violations
- Analysing the social and environmental codes of conduct, standards, policies and other frameworks that apply to your case
- Building consensus among partners
- Identifying how the complaint fits within your wider strategy to achieve remedy or redress
- Seeking the advice of civil society organisations like SOMO that are experienced in filing complaints at grievance mechanisms.
Step 7: Write the complaint
Many grievance mechanisms will have sample complaints you can use, which can be very helpful. When you are writing a complaint, strive to write it as clearly, concisely and persuasively as possible:
- Your complaint will be most persuasive if it is backed up with substantial and credible evidence, and it should clearly outline the standards covered by the mechanisms that are allegedly being violated.
- Conclude your complaint with a clear formulation of your demands and expectations both towards the company/ies and the grievance mechanism. If you are unclear about how the complaint will be handled, request the grievance mechanism to explain and outline the process.
- In addition, if the allegations require substantial explanation, it may be worthwhile to write a more concise account of the complaint and include an annexe with a more comprehensive explanation. Also, try to avoid using too much jargon or too many acronyms.
- The complaint drafting process, especially if it involves many people, can help to clarify what you do know and what you may need to research or explore further.
Step 8: File the complaint
Submit the complaint and all accompanying documents in the format and language required to the address, email and/or fax of the grievance mechanism.
Keep in mind that some grievance mechanisms have specific time-bound criteria regarding when a complaint can be submitted, whereas others do not.
Step 9: Engage in the process
Depending on the grievance mechanism, you may have an active role to play in the process. In a dialogue-based, problem-solving process, it may be necessary to agree to the terms of mediation. You could also be asked to provide more information.
Some grievance mechanisms may undertake official fact-finding processes, which could require preparation in advance of the visit such as arranging meetings etc. It may also be necessary to travel to participate in meetings. Some processes can be completed within months. Other can take a year or more, and there are a few that can take many years.
Step 10: Follow-up
It is advisable to take into account the potential need to follow up on your complaint after a grievance mechanism has closed or concluded your case. Most grievance mechanisms will issue a final statement or report when the process concludes.
In some cases, you can appeal, but in other cases, you cannot. Some grievance mechanisms may monitor the situation, and you may play a role in that regard. Other mechanisms might enforce the decisions or outcomes of the process. If you are unsatisfied with the outcome, you can consider using other grievance mechanisms.