Step 6. Establishing Effective Grievance Mechanisms

Fairing Hiring Toolkit for Suppliers

For Governments
 
This section provides a tailored introduction to the materials for governments and public policy actors, including an overview of the most relevant tools and guidance with an explanation of how these tools can support the work of governments and other public policy actors. These tools complement national and international regulatory efforts to promote fair hiring, reign in abusive labor recruiter practices, and establish rigorous protections for migrant workers.
For Advocates
 
This section of Verité’s Fair Hiring Toolkit provides a tailored introduction to the materials for labor rights advocates and labor unionists. An overview of the most relevant tools and guidance is provided, with an explanation of how these tools can support their work. The tools provided here are broad and multi-faceted, providing guidance on a range of issues linked to forced labor and human trafficking. You are encouraged to explore the material provided here and discover how you can put it to use in your own work.
For Investors
 
This section provides a tailored introduction to the materials for investors. An overview of the most relevant tools and guidance is provided, with an explanation of how these tools can support the work of investors. These tools can support investor campaigns, corporate advocacy and dialogue, and investment analysis of risks of forced labor and human trafficking in company operations and supply chains.
For Auditors
 
This section of Verité’s Fair Hiring Toolkit provides a tailored introduction to the materials for social auditors and certifiers. An overview of the most relevant tools and guidance is provided, with an explanation of how these tools can support their work. The Toolkit is extensive and multi-faceted; it provides guidance on a range of issues. Auditors are encouraged to explore the complete set of materials provided.
For Multi-Stakeholders
 
This section provides a tailored introduction to the materials for multi-stakeholder and multi-brand initiatives. An overview of the most relevant tools and guidance is provided, with an explanation of how these tools can support the work of multi-stakeholder and multi-brand initiatives.

Step 6. Establishing Effective Grievance Mechanisms & Protection for Whistleblowers

Robust and open communication between workers and management is essential for promoting trust and understanding in the workplace, enhancing performance, and generating the active participation of the workforce. Such communication is also essential to allow for problems and grievances to be raised, discussed, and resolved.

In the management systems model used by Verité, feedback mechanisms are a critical element in the continuous improvement cycle, and are considered an early warning system for the company to mitigate problems and implement necessary changes that provide long-term structural solutions to address procedural weaknesses even before they pose serious risks.

All company facilities should have a written grievance policy to receive and address workers’ grievances which takes into account migrant workers’ language translation needs. An effective grievance procedure should ensure that any migrant worker, acting individually or with other workers, can submit a grievance without suffering prejudice or retaliation of any kind.

The tools to the right can help you determine the necessary elements of a robust and effective grievance mechanism, and give you some examples of types of grievance mechanisms and their functions. Grievance mechanisms should be tailored to fit the environment, workforce demographics, and operations of individual company facilities.

Tool 1: An Introduction to Grievance Mechanisms

All workers, and migrant workers in particular, should have access to grievance mechanisms that allow them to voice concerns without fear of punishment or retribution. The provision of these mechanisms by the employer is particularly crucial for migrant workers.Grievance mechanisms have many helpful purposes. They can serve to channel conflict into an institutionalized mechanism for peaceful resolution. They facilitate communication between workers and management regarding problems that arise, and enable workers to complain with dignity, knowing that there is a system of appeals leading to an impartial decision maker. Finally, they assist the company in ensuring that its staff is complying with company standards on ethical conduct.Company policy should include a description of the different processes and channels for workers to provide feedback on company practices and workplace issues – particularly those directly impacting workers’ employment concerns and welfare, and those relating to social responsibility standards. A robust grievance mechanism will allow employers to have a stronger, more stable workforce and will allow potential disruptive risks to be identified early. This can save employers time and money. It can also improve morale, and protect against reputational and legal risk.


WHAT MAKES A GRIEVANCE MECHANISM EFFECTIVE?

  • Established procedures are easy to understand;
  • A mechanism to ensure workers confidentiality;
  • A procedure for management to follow-up on reported grievances that is communicated to workers;
  • A procedure that allows workers to report a grievance against a supervisor to an impartial entity, and in any case to someone other than that supervisor or any other manager in that supervisor’s chain of command;
  • A procedure for workers to monitor the status of complaints;
  • Existence of an appeals system;
  • A policy that ensures that workers who report a grievance can do so without fear of penalty, dismissal or reprisal of any kind;
  • A policy that provides workers with grievances access to additional support or advocacy (i.e. interpreters, counseling).

Employers should set up grievance mechanisms that allow workers to take their problems, complaints and/or suggestions to management through different channels, depending on the issues being reported, who the worker has a complaint regarding, and how comfortable workers feel in reporting their grievances.Possible examples of channels include:

  • a supervisor
  • a workers’ representative during worker assemblies
  • a union representative
  • workers’ committee
  • phone or text hotline (can be anonymous)

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
Employers should ensure that no worker is excluded from participation in grievance mechanisms. Social, cultural and language differences provide particular challenges in this regard.All communication regarding grievance mechanisms should be in languages that workers understand. Translators should be employed where necessary. Multiple communication channels should be provided to ensure that workers will find an avenue with which they are comfortable registering concerns.Confidentiality – and anonymity – in submitting grievances should be assured to all workers. This provision should be emphasized to migrant workers during on-boarding and training.In cases where a labor recruiter manages migrant workers on-site, the recruiter should have grievance mechanisms in place; and the host facility should also provide migrant workers with confidential and anonymous channels to report recruiter misconduct.


LABOR UNIONS
A primary venue for worker-management communication and feedback is the labor union. Enhanced cooperation and communication between unions, workers and management facilitates mutual trust and respect, which in turn promote increased efficiency and productivity. Below are some steps for establishing a system for worker, union and management communication and feedback:1. Establish clear and mutually agreed-upon terms of engagement for cooperation and communication with the union as a partner. Both parties should agree on the rules of engagement including roles, functions and areas of accountability for both parties. Parameters and conditions of union participation should be defined in the areas of:

  • Grievance procedures;
  • Discipline and termination; and
  • Communication.

2. Develop a labor relations policy and an implementing structure to formalize communication with labor representatives within the facility. Labor relations policy should indicate procedures for:

  • Labor-management communication;
  • Worker feedback and participation in both a unionized and non-unionized workforce; and
  • Worker and union representation in health and safety committees, quality assurance teams, and other worker-represented councils.

WORKER COUNCILS OR COMMITTEES
Worker committees are consultative bodies established to improve the welfare of workers and to foster the development of the business through participation and cooperation between workers and employers. They serve as a forum where management and employees may air their concerns, short of collective bargaining. These councils can help to resolve disputes and act as a mechanism for submitting a grievance. A worker committee should ideally represent all worker nationalities/languages, so that each worker has a voice. Elections are held on a fixed schedule and elected leaders meet with human resource managers to discuss potential issues and promote constructive communication. A worker committee should operate by the following principles:

  • Front-line workers have the right to participate in decisions that affect their working lives;
  • Workers and management have a mutual interest in the success of factory operations;
  • Workers and management share a responsibility to work together to achieve that success.

Effective grievance mechanisms are a critical element of any well-functioning workplace. Where engagement with labor recruiters is concerned, such mechanisms can help you to gauge the performance of your recruiters. They can also serve as an early warning system for a host of labor and ethics violations that you will want to know about, including human trafficking and forced labor.

Tool 2: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Grievance Mechanism

The design of grievance mechanisms is a tailored process that depends importantly on many factors, including the composition of the workforce, the size of the facility, the nature of the work and work schedules. Because of these and other complexities, Verité offers here not prescriptive guidance for designing grievance mechanisms, but rather a set of questions that can be used as a self-assessment to determine whether your existing grievance mechanisms are adequate and effective and whether or how to improve them.


A RATIONALE AND POLICY STATEMENT
The establishment of effective grievance mechanisms begins at the top, with policy statements that articulate the corporate value derived by the company from observing grievance procedures in the workplace.

Such statements should reference any relevant legal standards, as well as any client code of conduct requirements.

Companies can ask themselves the following questions in formulating policy statements on grievance mechanisms:

  • What is the company’s commitment statement regarding the establishment of grievance procedures?
  • Which of the company’s other ethical standards are relevant to grievance mechanisms?
  • Are there any relevant customer requirements?
  • What are the relevant legal standards?

The written policy should state a commitment to provide a venue for workers to be heard, for complaints to be acted upon and for management to provide feedback on the status of complaints. It should include assurance of non-reprisal and confidentiality, and an appeal system for unfavorably resolved complaints or disciplinary actions.


DESIGNING EFFECTIVE GRIEVANCE MECHANISMS
The following issues should be considered in the design of effective grievance mechanisms.

REGULAR COMMUNICATION

  • Does the company have clear communications channels that encourage workers to report violations or issues of concern?
  • Is there a venue in which management and workers can discuss issues of interest to workers, and elicit their feedback? Some venues that management may use to conduct meetings or discussions with migrant workers are:
      • Regular monthly meetings and worker assemblies;
      • Orientation sessions, upon commencement of employment;
      • Worker education trainings, to update and refresh worker awareness of company policies; and
      • Regular dormitory meetings, conducted by a human resources representative or the company’s labor recruiter coordinator.

ACCESS

  • Can migrant workers directly access the company’s grievance channels?
  • Can migrant workers give feedback or report grievances to the company without having to go through the labor recruiter’s channels?
  • Do the grievance procedures of both the company and the labor recruiter allow migrant workers to seek assistance from their embassies?

CONFIDENTIALITY

  • Do the grievance procedures provide a mechanism that ensures the confidentiality of worker submits the grievance? For example:
      • Is there a secure hotline that is handled by an objective party and can be used to report grievances privately and confidentially, including those relating to unethical management practices, without threat of reprisal?
      • Is there a suggestion box located in a secure location that workers are comfortable using? Are the suggestions evaluated and processed regularly by human resources? Is each suggestion addressed directly, responded to properly through a confidential verification/investigation process?
      • Are there other options that the company can explore to provide for confidential and private reporting, i.e., company intranet or email?

PROTECTION FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS
Protection specifically for whistleblowers — persons who report or make disclosures about unethical or improper conduct by an employee or officer of a company — is an important element of any grievance mechanism system. The questions below will help you to evaluate whether your company has the requirements necessary to ensure whistleblower protection:

  • Is there a written company policy regarding the protection of whistleblowers?
  • Does the company provide workers with a way to confidentially report suspected ethical misconduct and that protects them from retaliation or other consequences?
  • Does the company have an established process for workers to anonymously report suspected violations of business conduct standards in order to prevent possible retaliation?
  • Does the company provide workers and external stakeholders with written information on how to report ethical or legal concerns?
  • Do workers understand how the grievance process works, and how whistleblowers are protected?
  • Is there a system of recording and documenting of employee reports of business ethics violations?

In Focus: Some Elements of Effective Grievance Mechanism Approaches

      • The company maintains a telephone hotline that allows employees to anonymously report ethical misconduct.
      • The company has a web-based system that allows employees to anonymously report ethical misconduct.
      • The company contracts an independent third party to manage the company’s grievance reporting.
      • The company has detailed procedures in place to protect whistleblower identity as part of the grievance investigation process.

NONREPRISAL

  • Do the company’s grievance procedures clearly provide a mechanism that protects workers from reprisal?

RESOLUTION AND REDRESS

  • Do the company’s grievance procedures provide a mechanism for immediate grievance resolution?
  • Is there a clear procedure for management follow-up of reported grievances? Is this procedure clearly communicated to workers?
  • Is the status of management’s response to reported grievances communicated back to the worker who submitted the grievance?

CAPACITY

  • Does the company orient and train its supervisors and managers on the handling of worker grievances?
  • Does the staff assigned to receive and handle workers’ grievances speak the languages of the workers?
  • Where translators are present, are there functions and availability to assist with grievances clearly communicated to all workers? Are the translators trained to handle grievances? Transparency and Documentation
  • Does the company communicate its grievance policy and procedures to all workers?
  • Are grievance proceedings, including any follow-up actions, properly documented and filed?

Evaluating the effectiveness of your grievance mechanisms against the above set of questions can be a good first step toward making necessary improvements to protect your company and your workforce from legal and ethical violations, and to make for a more well-functioning workplace.

 


 

Humanity United LogoVerité gratefully acknowledges Humanity United for their generous support on this research and communications initiative.