Alexandra Guaqueta – Business Voice

Alexandra Guaqueta – Former Head of Social Standards and International Engagement, Cerrejόn

Building internal commitment – Risk versus impact - Grievance Mechanisms

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Cerrejόn has had a very interesting journey internalising what human rights means, how that connects to the rest of the operation, and how you introduce systems to verify compliance with human rights. It has been a journey of understanding, developing systems and having appropriate capacity to do this.

The first stage of this journey was working with the Voluntary Principles. This required conversations between us and the military, and conversations between us and the private security providers on making sure that their people were appropriately trained to ensure they could understand what it meant to have good relations with the local communities. For us it was absolutely important to be a good neighbour and they had to understand that as well – that it was in the business interest that they had the best relations possible with the communities. In the company it took a switch from understanding security risks to security impacts. This required a shift in understanding that it is the positive and negative impacts on people that require focus. After that, it has been about introducing a rights-based approach to corporate social responsibility.

In the Colombian context people often associate human rights violations with torture and massacres. But now we were saying ‘there are other rights at stake – it’s about labour rights, it’s about the rights of community to livelihoods as affected by the environmental impact of the operation’ – so we’re talking here about economic and cultural rights. The natural debates inside a company is ‘what is our role and what is the role of the state?’ If education is a right, then is it our obligation to ensure there are schools in the province we operate in? How do you do this in a country that has poverty? Is a company meant to solve all the poverty problems, and surely we cannot adopt that role? A lot of clarification conversations happen in companies, so to be effective that requires somebody with a pedagogic vocation to hold conversations at the lunch break, in the formal meetings, with presentations, working with human resources, legal, environmental and operations departments – at the management level and at the very operational level. That takes time. These corporate culture changes do take time.

So by now in 2010, what do we have in place after having started with a narrow scope of human rights? We have a division of Social Standards that ensures compliance of the organisation on human rights issues. We have a grievance mechanism. This has been really a powerful tool, and we piloted a grievance mechanism with the help of John Ruggie’s team based on their guidelines. This grievance mechanism has really helped us become aware of issues in the community that we were not capturing before. We have a human rights policy. We understand now that our role is not the same as that of the State. Our old policy used to talk about protecting human rights, because we thought this was what we were doing with our employees, and of course we respect human rights, but our role is not exactly like that of the state. We have understood that our role is about respecting and we can do a lot to strengthen institutions at the local government level and with National Governments, so that they can then protect the rights of communities and workers.

Extract revised for written version from audio file recorded in June 2010.

Interview in Spanish

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