Ines Andrade – Business Voice

Ines Andrade CerrejonInés Elvira Andrade
Coordinadora de Estándares Sociales / Social Standards Coordinator

Complaints Office – Rights-Based Grievance Mechanism – Social License to Operate – Lessons Learnt – Ongoing Challenges


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In Cerrejón we started our human rights journey back in 2005 with the creation of a human rights programme that focused mainly on the implementation of the standard known as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Right and by promoting human rights in our neighbour communities.  But since then we have defined a broader approach and we have focused on the impacts caused by our operation with a human rights perspective.  During this process we have aligned to well-known international standards and we created the department of Social Standards and International Engagement as the area of the company charged with ensuring their implementation and, in particular, the implementation of the UN’s Protect, Respect and Remedy framework.

Our process on the ground has included several activities such as the adjustments to our human rights policy; the identification and management of our impacts; continued dialogue with communities on these issues; and the integration of this approach in the operation and also, very important, we have provided remedy whenever the impacts cannot be avoided.  Our experience in this last component, the Remedy pillar, has provided key learnings for Cerrejón.  We started this process of implementing a Complaints Office in 2009 after being invited by Harvard University to participate in the project to pilot Professor John Ruggie’s guidelines for establishing a non-judicial remedy mechanism.  This pilot process included, first, to understand the different mechanisms that the company had to process complaints.  In our case we had already in place an ethics line; also a mechanism within the human rights programme that registered and processed security-related complaints; and also other mechanisms existed where employees could express their concerns on issues such as transportation or the meals programme.

After analysing this we defined the requirements that would allow us to have a rights-based grievance mechanism that complied with the criteria suggested of being predictable, legitimate, transparent, accessible, fair, and based on dialogue.  It is also worth mentioning that in this process we also adopted other criteria suggested by the International Finance Corporation and also the International Council on Mining and Metals, such as that Grievance Mechanisms should also be proportional, safe for the complainants, as well as culturally appropriate.  After that we defined that the scope of the Complaints Office would be to register and investigate complaints related to the impacts caused by our operation on employees, contractors and communities.  We also defined the categories and the type of complaints as well as their severity levels.  We also provided training to potential investigators and simultaneously designed the software that would manage the process.

We wrote and published a manual that includes the office’s Governance Rules and all the procedures, and carried out meetings with more than 2000 employees and community members to socialise the existence of the new office.  Regarding the people that we have established for this office, we initially designed it as a very lean and small office.  We started just with one person but now we have a team of 5 full time staff including one advisor from the Wayúu indigenous community who served as translator and advisor on the specificities of the Wayúu culture. This whole process took us over a year and we were able to launch the office in September of 2010.  Some of the challenges that we faced in this process include, first of all, to know that the implementation process takes more time than originally expected: the internal consultations to obtain the company’s support; the administrative processes to equip and staff the office; the training for the investigators; and the design and adjustments to the software were all activities that required more time than envisioned.  Second we have seen that investigating and closing cases takes more time than originally expected.  Although we defined some deadlines to carry out the investigations we now know that there are complex cases that require more time than originally planned.

Reaching internal decisions (and also the number of meetings required with complainants and the long distances investigators must travel to meet several times in person with the complainants) required us to adapt our timelines.  It is also to be expected that processing complaints following the principle of permanent dialogue requires additional time.

A third challenge we have found in this process is obtaining the internal support. Although this office was established with a clear mandate from our CEO, the internal understanding of the Complaints Office’s mission and scope was not immediately understood at all company departments and levels, and obtaining their buy-in to carry out investigations has been challenging.  Meanwhile our Complaints Office – our staff – has had to deal with a large workload.

In essence the establishment of the Complaints Office has generated for us very important lessons.  First of all it has allowed us to bring certain topics to the attention of our senior management. For example, with the Complaints Office we have been able to address some of the impacts caused by animals killed by the train that transports coal from the mine to the port and to obtain a change in the company policy that for almost three decades forbade compensating the Wayúu when their animals were killed.

A second important lesson would be that through the Complaints Office we have been able to enhance constructive dialogue with communities.  Communities value the time and effort dedicated to them.  But we clearly understand that this office cannot, and should not, replace the permanent and significant engagement of the company with its neighbour communities.  In addition, with this mechanism we know that our capacity to act with due diligence has been enhanced.  We are identifying new minor impacts as well as new ways to understand them and it has also helped us to prepare or modify our existing management plans.

Another important result that is worth mentioning is that the Complaints Office has allowed us to systematize cases and enable a better understanding of certain issues.  This has helped us to prepare integral responses to what could have been seen before as isolated situations.  This in the end helps us to focus our staff on our resources better.

Our role in the implementation of this office is definitely not over. Many challenges remain.  For example, we know that we must continue to strengthen the integration of the complaints mechanisms within the operation and we must enhance support across all company sections and levels.  We should be able to develop clear rules to decide on compensations and expedite our decision processes.  We also must be able to periodically review and improve our complaints management system.  In parallel, we have to continue with the company’s enhancement of the quality of our engagement with the communities and to obtain fast track administrative processes that help us to deliver results in a timely way.

All of these things we have found with the office are encouraging signs.  We are aware of the challenges ahead however, but we are convinced that the Complaints Office can help the company respect human rights, it contributes to having the social license to operate, and it has definitely helped us to understand and address our impacts in a strategic way.