Photo: Jordens Vänner

Due to their obligation to protect their citizens’ human rights, states have a duty to ensure that those who are negatively affected by business operations have access to remedy through lodging complaints. To make remedy possible, effective grievance mechanisms are needed on the ground to which those affected can turn. There are judicial grievance mechanisms that states are required to provide, for example courts. There are also non-judicial grievance mechanisms, for example national human rights institutions, which those affected can approach for a ruling and resolve conflicts before they end up in court. States must also ensure that there are practical opportunities to lodge complaints by, for example, ensuring that it is not prohibitively expensive and that judgements are free from corruption and political influence.

All member states of the OECD, (or that back the OECD’s corporate responsibility guidelines), must establish National Contact Points, (NCP), to where people and organisations can turn and register complaints of human rights abuses by businesses. The NCPs function as mediatory bodies that can issue rulings and make recommendations about how companies should act. All existing complaints are available on the OECD website.

The UN guiding principles also state that companies themselves should establish complaint mechanisms. These should aim at handling complaints, addressing shortcomings, and enabling compensation to be granted promptly. They can also provide information to companies about impacts and risks linked to their operations. Grievance mechanisms at a company level, or through sector-based initiatives, can for example take the form of committees with established processes for handling complaints, hotlines, suggestion boxes, or other measures. These can be administered by the company itself, or via a third party, for instance a local organisation that is trusted by employees or local people. A grievance mechanism can only work if the target group knows about it, trusts it and is able to use it. It is also important that all complaints are taken seriously, are being investigated and followed up. In brief, a grievance mechanism can be said to be effective when it is: legitimate, accessible, consistent, equal, open, compatible with human rights, a source of continued learning, and based on participation and dialogue.


Shift has published guidelines on grievance mechanisms and has several examples of such mechanisms.

Discussion point:

In what ways can those who are negatively affected by a business’ operations lodge complaints? Is information made available on the company’s website? How are complaints handled? What sort of complaints are made, and what do they say about the operations?

Back to Corporate responsibility