The Center for International Law and Policy at New England Law | Boston established the Operational-level Grievance Mechanism (OGM) Project in 2016 to study how companies of all sizes establish internal private mechanisms to handle grievances from individuals and communities about negative human rights impacts related to their business operations.
The OGM Project database results from desktop research that aims to provide factual, objective reporting on the existence and development of OGMs at companies of all sizes around the world. The OGM Project issues periodic reports that profile examples of well-developed OGMs. It also makes the database available to other stakeholders.
As of Spring of 2022, more than 699 companies have been researched and added to our database, including Adidas, Aldi Group South, Cerrejon, Chevron, Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold, and Rio Tinto.
Please contact project director Professor Lisa Laplante for questions about the OGM database or the Trends and General Practices of Company Operational-Level Grievance Mechanisms Reports for 2020,2021, and 2022. (Or the 2019 Case Study).
What Are OGMs?
Operational-level grievance mechanisms are formalized company procedures that are put in place to receive complaints submitted by affected stakeholders regarding negative company impacts. These individuals or communities may be seeking a resolution to a perceived problem, and in some cases may desire reparations. Generally speaking, OGMs are private, internal processes without any government oversight or coordination. In some cases, companies work with third parties, such as non-governmental agencies, during or after the remediation process to assure fairness and legitimacy of the process.
Notably, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) call upon companies to assure that negative human rights are remedied, and Pillar III emphasizes the role of non-judicial, non-state remedies like OGMs as one means of achieving this goal. Principle 29 provides detailed information on how companies can employ OGM processes as one means of satisfying Principle 22, which indicates “where business enterprise identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes.”
Following the approval of the UNGPs, there has been a notable trend of companies creating grievance mechanisms in response to this call to action, possibly due to industry customs or the growing need for transparency. Companies are developing grievance mechanisms that allow a baseline of grievance reporting, and many have joined together to create different uniform grievance mechanisms such as “ethics hotlines” or other mechanisms in place that allow for a baseline coverage.
About the OGM Project
The Operational-level Grievance Mechanism Project is an initiative of the Center for International Law and Policy, located at New England Law | Boston. The student-run project is directed by Professor Lisa Laplante, who is also a professor of law at the school.
Student managers and volunteers conduct research, investigating as many as 75 companies per semester. The project also conducts periodic reviews of companies to track any new developments of their OGMs.
The OGM Project frames its research to respond to the principles and guidelines provided by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), approved by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The project’s overarching goal is to support the development and implementation of the UNGPs.
The project aims to study the existence and operation of grievance mechanisms for negative human rights impacts, including but not limited to:
- Discrimination (e.g., disparate treatment of worker)
- Freedom of association (unions)
- Unfair working conditions (e.g., health and safety issues; low to no wages)
- Unlawful detention
- Forced Labor
- Child Labor
- Indigenous people’s rights (e.g., look for pollution or taking of land)
- Right to life (e.g., look for improper use of force)
- Sexual violence
The OGM Project aims to promote a better understanding of how private grievance mechanisms work in practice, with an eye towards generating observations related to industry customs, best practices, and lessons learned. Related goals include:
- To collect model examples of companies that claim to follow the UNGP’s and have fully functioning operational-level grievance mechanism to handle complaints about negative human rights impacts.
- To learn if these OGMs actually deliver reparations to individuals and communities for any harms caused.
- To begin to collect industry practice as it relates to internal grievance mechanisms.
- To track if and how companies may be evolving over time to see if there is a trend to come into compliance with the UNGPs and to develop OGMs.
- To contribute to a better understanding of how to operationalize the criteria for evaluating these OGMs, in particular the guidelines set forth in Principle 31 of the UNGPs.
Researchers are looking for a place where employees, community groups, or anyone affected by the company can file more serious human rights–related grievances (distinct from other “grievance mechanisms” used to field generic complaints). The goal is to find companies that not only provide such a mechanism but that the mechanism actually leads to reparations to those harmed by the company.
Researchers also note companies that have a human rights policy but no OGM or claim to have an OGM but no data.
Illustrative research questions include:
- Does a given company exhibit a commitment to any international human rights law through an explicit policy and operational programs?
- Does the company include recognition of the UNGPs?
- What, if any, operational-level grievance mechanisms are set up for employees, community groups, or other stakeholders to file human rights grievances?
- What kinds of human rights complaints are accepted?
- Do these OGMs offer adequate processes and are they transparent?
- Do the companies work with third parties in the remediation and in what capacity?
- Do companies actually ever provide reparations for human rights harms caused or contributed to by their operations?
- Do stakeholders resort to these mechanisms?
For more information or to make inquiries about collaboration, contact Professor Lisa Laplante, Director, Center for Law and International Policy.