ACCESS was launched in December 2012 at the conference: "Resolving Company - Community Conflicts; practical approaches and multi-stakeholder perspectives". The conference provided a platform for experts and practitioners to discuss the current challenges and opportunities in resolving company-community conflicts by non-judicial means. The conference was unique in offering multi-stakeholder perspectives on a number of cases of company-community dispute resolution. The stakeholders personally involved in those cases shared their first hand experiences with the audience.
ACCESS was established by the HUGO CSR Initiative, a collaborative project that was initatied in 2009 and ran until the end of 2012. The HUGO program was financed by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the City of The Hague. The HUGO CSR team consisted of the World Legal Forum foundation, law firms Buren and Pels Rijcken & Droogleever Fortuijn, the Institute for Environmental Security (IES), the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, Science Alliance B.V. and the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School, and cooperated with the Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL), Dr. Tineke Lambooy (external consultant), Mr. David Kovick (external consultant) and Mr. Serge Bronkhorst (representing IES and external consultant co-coordinating HUGO CSR).
Background of ACCESS
To promote more responsible business conduct, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights (Special Representative), Professor John Ruggie, prepared the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.These principles are based on the “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” framework, defining the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for greater access to remedies when abuse has occurred.
With respect to the third pillar "access to remedy", the Special Representative reviewed the role and reach of judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms in addressing the human rights impacts of business. He concluded that the current “patchwork of mechanisms remains incomplete and flawed. It must be improved in its parts and as a whole” and noted that these inadequacies take two forms:
there is inadequate access to information for those with grievances about what mechanisms are available to them, how they function and what supporting resources exist; and inadequate information for companies and others as to what makes non-judicial grievance mechanisms effective in practice;
there are “intended and unintended limitations in the competence and coverage of existing mechanisms”.
In 2011, the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School ("CSRI") on behalf of the Special Representative researched whether and how the international community could improve capacity for the effective mediation of disputes at the local level between business and those affected by their operations.
The findings of the research were discussed and analyzed during an expert meeting convened by CSRI and the founders of ACCESS Facility. Participants included business and NGO representatives, community advocates, legal experts, and dispute resolution professionals and included the researchers who had conducted the stakeholder interviews on which the research was based. This research identified several gaps, including:
the lack of information available for businesses, communities and civil society organizations to make informed choices on grievance-handling options;
there is a need to demystify non judicial dispute resolution processes;
the challenges in identifying effective “third-party neutrals” (facilitators or mediators);
concerns that the parties to disputes often lack the capacity to participate effectively in mediation processes;