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Webinar: Advancing Responsible Business in Colombia

Engaging with local communities and addressing grievances

(29 May 2012) As part of the ongoing series of country-focused webinars on Responsible Business Practices in Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, the UN Global Compact Office and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) convened an online discussion on how to best engage with local communities in Colombia, with a particular focus on grievance mechanisms and the role of local unions.

Recognizing that companies face major challenges to ensure that local communities support their activities, the establishment of strategic and transparent mechanisms to engage with local communities is a key requirement for constructive interaction and successful corporate operations.

During the webinar, Ines Andrade, Coordinator of Social Standards at Cerrejon, highlighted the importance of advancing responsible business.

“Corporate social responsibility is not an option,” she stated and proceeded to offer detailed steps that Cerrejon has taken to implement responsible human rights practices. These include implementing a human rights due diligence process and a five-year community engagement plan, and opening a grievance office, following the recommendation in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to establish operational-level grievance mechanisms.

Ms. Andrade discussed the rights-based approach of the grievance office and the company’s methods for identifying its impacts on community rights. The grievance office’s unique approach to dealing with complaints involves thoroughly analyzing and classifying complaints received on a matrix. This process allows the office to proactively and strategically address grievances and to continue to enhance Cerrejon’s work in the country.

Angela Rivas Gamboa, Business, Conflict and Peace-Building Programme Coordinator at Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz, explained that unions are key actors in local communities but are often polarized when it comes to companies and their social license to operate.

“Not only are they a very important actor but also an actor that requires a lot of effort to try to engage in a very constructive way” she stated explaining that in recent years companies have made great progress with engaging unions in multi-stakeholder initiatives. However, there is still much to be learned and solutions must be adapted to the Columbian context to help advance this engagement.

Bruno Bastit, Senior SRI Analyst - Emerging Markets at Hermes Equity Ownership Services Ltd, emphasized how important it is for companies to consider both local and global standards and operating guidelines when developing responsible business strategies.

Overall, companies operating in Colombia have made strides but challenges still lay ahead. This discussion has hoped to advance responsible business practices in this context.


Adrienne Gardaz
UN Global Compact
gardaz (at) un.org