It’s definitely not easy to govern a multi-stakeholder organization such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which deals with various challenges in a complex industry such as palm oil and is prone to disputes and conflicts, therefore an effective grievance mechanism that can be fair to both members and other stakeholders is necessary.
“This mechanism is a support for our key documents to make sure there is a check and balance within our self-regulated organization, so misconducts and wrongdoings can be hold accountable,” Rudi Bachtiar Rifai, RSPO Grievance Manager Indonesia told The Palm Scribe in an interview in Jakarta (10/9).
According to Rudi, while addressing sustainability challenges, not all situations follow standardized approaches and reach undisputed outcomes. This may lead to conflicting perceptions for different stakeholders, resulting in complaints addressed to the RSPO in the hope for a fair, transparent and impartial process and decision.
Rudi said that the organization’s grievance mechanism was not intended as a replacement for prevailing legal requirements and mechanism, but was rather made available in order to protect RSPO’s own integrity as most complaints are being made against RSPO members in order for RSPO to look into a complaint, they should be prepared based on RSPO key documents – Statutes and By-laws, RSPO’s Principles & Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production (P&C), including all guidance, indicators associated with the adoption and implementation of the P&C, Code of Conduct for all members, RSPO’s New Plantings Procedure, RSPO’s Certification Systems, RSPO’s Rules established for Trade and Traceability and for Communication and Claims.
“Up until today, there’ has been a total of 132 cases, with 40 still ongoing. So far, most cases are against growers,” Rudi said.
When lodging their grievances, complainants need to provide information in writing, using the given template which includes name and contact details of the party submitting the complaint. The complaints can be submitted traditionally by a letter, e-mail, or online, through a designated website provided by RSPO. Complainants can ask to have their identity not divulged (Whistle-blower protection/confidentiality) as long as their complaints are valid.
A complaint needs to contain the nature of the complaint, supporting evidence (including all possible documentation, etc), and any supporting information about efforts have taken – but unsuccessful – to resolve the issue bilaterally or otherwise.
Additionally, complainants are encouraged to propose or suggest specific corrective actions that may resolve the issues detailed in the complaint.
With the grievance mechanism, RSPO wants to ensure that aggrieved parties have reasonable access to sources of information, advice, and expertise necessary to engage in a complaints process on a fair, informed, and transparent basis. All parties involved, are also asked to engage in the process in good faith and in accordance with established procedures.
“After all the necessary documents are completed, we can provide an initial diagnosis within 30 days. First, we need to check if the designated complaint is against a current member of RSPO, because if not, then it’s simply outside of our boundaries. Then we decide, which principal had been violated, then we continue with an investigation and then a complaint panel will decide,” Rudi elaborated.
To manage the investigations and determine the most suitable way to hear arguments from those involved in the complaint, the panel will oversee oral hearings, private meetings, conference calls, or requests for written statements and in this regard, issue the necessary procedural directives to bring about a fair and expeditious conclusion of the case.
The Complaints Panel has the power to delegate to the Secretariat any or all of its powers to make and give procedural directives to those sides involved; summarily dismiss a complaint if it does not comply with the directions given, or if it is an attempt to reopen a complaint that had already been previously dismissed.
The panel may also delegate to the secretariat the power to consolidate and investigate simultaneously two or more complaints against the same target, involving the same allegations of fact and/or issues. The panel may also direct the Secretariat to appoint independent investigators or experts in any relevant field and to consider their reports; determine their terms of reference; conduct site visits; interview relevant persons and witnesses and ensure that the Secretariat does not disclose the identity of these persons and witnesses where anonymity is requested.
Grievances are expected to be resolved within sixty working days after the close of the investigation phase. Anyone dissatisfied with the decision of the panel may appeal to the Appeals Panel by submitting a Notice of Appeal to the Secretariat, within sixty working days after reception of the decisions.
Rudi said that almost 70 percent of grievance cases comes from Indonesia. They also mostly involved Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) cases and labor issues, with the longest case, took up to 10 years to settle.
“Sometimes during the process, we have an unexpected plot twist,” Rudi said smiling, declining to reveal further details of ongoing cases.
“Those are mainly legacy cases where we have to wait for legal settlements during the process,” he said, referring to cases that took place prior to RSPO’s own establishment. He said, however, that most cases can be settled within four to six months.
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