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International Grievance Mechanisms and International Law and Governance

Final Report Summary - IGMS (International Grievance Mechanisms and International Law and Governance)

The project makes an in-depth study of the International Grievance Mechanisms (IGMs) which are not tribunals but allow people who are affected by environmental and/or social harm, stemming from transnational activities, to ask to render account in situations where no legal liability can be triggered. Concretely, it explores the role of the complaint mechanisms created by multilateral development banks and those of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These mechanisms are off-the-beaten tracks. First, they assess compliance with behaviour standards, which are adopted at the international level but are not considered as binding international law. Second, they seem to fill up justifiability gaps: multilateral development banks are international organisations, which are covered by jurisdictional immunities and cannot be brought before a tribunal by affected people, even when the projects they finance result in significant harm. In regard to multinational enterprises, a combination of factors may make it very difficult to ask them to render account before tribunals. These factors include the complexity of the economic and legal fabric regarding, for example, the distinction between parent company and subsidiary, the way supply chains work, or the intervention of financial intermediaries. The lack of accountability may also result from the fact that some investments of multinational enterprises have high economic stakes, sometimes coming with strong pressure and corruption. The IGMs project questions the role of these non-judicial mechanisms, their nature, their effectiveness and legitimacy. Furthermore, it explores to what extent the IGMs contribute (or not) to international justice. What the research shows is that the creation of this kind of non-judicial complaint mechanism is becoming a good practice of international development institutions and responds to good governance and rule of law considerations. Their outcomes are, however, somewhat deceptive compared to the expectations they generate: they do not often end up with the complainant being actually better off, and the institutions of these IGMs have trouble learning systematic lessons from the cases. The research reveals systemic failures in the design, approval and implementation of development projects that are still not adequately addressed. The work of the IGMs contributes to highlighting these, and sometimes, changing the practice and standards of the institution to better protect the people and the environment.