In the extractive industry, grievances are unavoidable. Companies must be prepared to face disagreements or even conflicts. Establishing and publicizing a procedure for grievance settlement are key steps towards an efficient consultation process. It is most often when stakeholders feel that they have no suitable mechanism for problem solving that they turn to conflict and confrontation.
A good grievance settlement procedure should:
- Be understandable.
- Be accessible.
- Allow complainants to feel safe when they file a complaint.
- Include a deadline for each step of the resolution process.
- Be fair (the decision making criteria and procedure should be the same for all types of complaints and all complainants).
- Include an appeal mechanism for complainants who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation.
One might think that these characteristics are obvious and that companies are easily able to put together such procedures. In theory yes, however on the ground the reality is sometimes different. The following situations are particularly common:
- Illiterate people find it more difficult than others to learn about procedures. It is also more difficult for them to file written grievances.
- People with reduced mobility will struggle to get to the community relations office to file a grievance. The procedure is in fact accessible, however not in an equitable matter.
- Some people would rather stay within their community to file a grievance. They feel more at ease or even more secure among their peers.
- Complaints are usually managed by a community worker. One of the challenges is therefore to review the status of a complaint and notify the complainant in real time. In remote areas, community workers can spend the week in the field and only get back to the office on weekends. Not easy in these circumstances to share information with other team members while staying within delays for responses to the complainant.
For companies, these constraints have significant consequences. For example, if some people are not able to file a grievance, it could engender discontent leading to an effect opposite to that intended. The situation is also likely to deteriorate if community workers do not have access to all the information pertaining to an investigation as complainants might surmise that the company shows lack of transparency and interest in solving their problems. Finally, companies with a management systems or grievance database that are not updated in real time could face surprises. Even when complaints are resolved in time on the ground, they could be unable to demonstrate that they met the deadline and complied with procedures.
Mobile applications and grievance processing
Technology can provide solutions to these field constraints. In addition to software and other management systems that are proliferating on the market, mobile applications that have recently emerged bring new solutions to facilitate grievance processing. Community officers equipped with a smart phone or a tablet when addressing complainants now have access to their grievance database in real time.
- Illiterate people can learn about procedures on these mobile devices using audio or video presentations. If there is a grievance, the officer can record the person’s complaint on an audio or video file.
- People with reduced mobility can file a grievance from home, using an officer’s mobile device.
- Those who rather stay in their community to file a grievance (due to lack of trust) can do so.
- The community agent gains easier access to information. He can verify the status of someone’s complaint on the spot and show the details of the investigation, photos, videos, etc.
- The community officer can also update the status of a grievance in real time. Response times and resolution times are then calculated using actual dates.
Finally, technology can help improve the communication of progress and the way field teams monitor grievances.
- Project must lead to a reduction of the number of grievances over time.
- Compensation claims should decrease over time.
- Violent or recalcitrant behaviors should decrease over time.
- Repeated complaints against the same department or for the same motive should decrease over time.
- The percentage of complainants acknowledging that the resolution process is fair, even when the result is not in their favor, should increase.