Camellia plc and certain of its subsidiary companies have recently settled legal claims in the United Kingdom based on allegations against two businesses in Camellia plc’s African operations, namely Kakuzi in Kenya and EPM in Malawi. The claimants – supported by the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the Ndula Resources Centre – had alleged personal injuries suffered by local residents in Kenya allegedly carried out by security guards employed by Kakuzi in Kenya and sexual harassment and gender-based violence suffered by EPM’s female employees in Malawi. These claims have now been resolved at settlements costing up to £4.6m in relation to the Kenyan claims, and £2.3m in relation to the Malawian claims (see Camellia’s trading statement here).

The settlement highlights the role and importance of remedial community measures and Operational-level Grievance Mechanisms, as well as the increased exposure to litigation of parent companies for human rights related failures by their subsidiaries (for further examples, see our coverage here and here).

Remedial Measures – Community Initiatives

In addition to financial compensation, Camellia plc has agreed a tailored package of community measures. These consist of:

  1. Women’s Empowerment Initiative (in Malawi) which will fund projects to improve the skills, employment opportunities, and educational attainment of women and girls in and around Camellia plc’s subsidiary’s operations, providing benefits both to the claimants and the wider community. This initiative will be subject to independent monitoring, guidance and oversight. The projects are to include:
  • Gender Equality Scholarships for 10 women, comprising guaranteed tuition and living costs throughout an undergraduate degree/other higher education course;
  • a specialist female leadership training program to support the career progression of women into more senior positions;
  • funding community civic education programs concentrating on Sexual Harassment and Gender Equality;
  • relocating and upgrading primary school facilities to include a community meeting hall;
  • building and maintaining boreholes in locations designed to benefit women and children locally;
  • establishing three new Victim Support Units (VSUs) at local police units; and
  • changes to working practices in Malawi, including to support the protection of women workers, notably by the introduction of Women’s Safeguarding Supervisors.
  1. Community measures (in Kenya) – such as:
  • the funding of charcoal kilns and access to firewood;
  • building social centers for community meetings;
  • employing predominantly female Safety Marshalls to give visible reassurance to those using access routes and particularly women;
  • building new roads;
  • the establishment of a Technical Working Group to survey and demarcate land which has been previously donated to the local communities; and
  • the design and implementation of a human rights defenders policy.
  1. The conduct of an independent human rights impact assessment (in Kenya) so that local communities and commercial partners can have confidence in Kakuzi’s commitment to, and attainment of, the highest standards of business and human rights going forward.

Operational-level Grievance Mechanisms

As well as implementing these community measures, Camellia has committed to implementing and developing Operational-level Grievance Mechanisms (OGMs) in both Kenya and Malawi, to:

  1. allow any future complaints of personal injury or human rights abuses to be resolved fairly, locally and quickly;
  2. enable investigations into the allegations and, as required, prosecution of, any offenders; and
  3. help strengthen relations with the local communities.

These OGMs will be developed and implemented, with wide-ranging stakeholder consultation, in a manner compliant with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and they will be reviewed, guided and overseen by a leading human rights consultancy. In addition, an independent monitor will also observe and report on the OGMs.

How is an Operational Grievance Mechanism “compliant” with the UNGPs?

OGMs perform two key functions regarding the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights:

  1. First, they support the identification of adverse human rights impacts as a part of an enterprise’s ongoing human rights due diligence. They do so by providing a channel for those directly impacted by the enterprise’s operations to raise concerns when they believe they are being or will be adversely impacted. By analyzing trends and patterns in complaints, business enterprises can also identify systemic problems and adapt their practices accordingly.
  2. Second, these mechanisms make it possible for grievances, once identified, to be addressed and for adverse impacts to be remediated early and directly by the business enterprise, thereby preventing harms from compounding and grievances from escalating.

Under the UNGPs, business enterprises should establish or participate in effective OGMs for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted, to make it possible for grievances to be addressed early and remediated directly. OGMs should be accessible directly to individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted by a business enterprise. Indeed, under UNGP Principle 31, to ensure effectiveness in practice, OGMs should be:

  • Legitimate: enabling trust from the stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended, and being accountable for the fair conduct of grievance processes;
  • Accessible: being known to all stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended, and providing adequate assistance for those who may face particular barriers to access;
  • Predictable: providing a clear and known procedure with an indicative time frame for each stage, and clarity on the types of process and outcome available and means of monitoring implementation;
  • Equitable: seeking to ensure that aggrieved parties have reasonable access to sources of information, advice and expertise necessary to engage in a grievance process on fair, informed and respectful terms;
  • Transparent: keeping parties to a grievance informed about its progress, and providing sufficient information about the mechanism’s performance to build confidence in its effectiveness and meet any public interest at stake;
  • Rights-compatible: ensuring that outcomes and remedies accord with internationally recognized human rights;
  • Based on engagement and dialogue: consulting the stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended on their design and performance, and focusing on dialogue as the means to address and resolve grievances.