World Bank Group (IFC and MIGA)

Compliance Advisor / Ombudsman (CAO)


The World Bank Group offers loans, advice, and an array of customized resources to more than 100 developing countries. The Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) is the independent recourse mechanism for projects supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) - the private sector lending arms of the World Bank Group. The CAO responds to complaints from project-affected communities with the goal of enhancing social and environmental outcomes on the ground. Complaints can include any negative social or environmental impact, and impacts related to business and human rights in the context of the IFC Policy and Performance Standards on environmental and Social Sustainability. 

Who can access it? 

Any individual, group, community, entity or other party affected or potentially affected by the social and environmental impacts of IFC/MIGA projects can submit a complaint, as can anyone acting with explicit authority on their behalf. A complainant from outside the country where the project is located has to lodge any complaint jointly with a local entity. 

How does it work?

Complaints may relate to any aspect of the planning, implementation, or impact of an IFC/MIGA project, including but not limited to:

  • Processes followed in the preparation of a project;
  • The adequacy of measures to mitigate environmental and social impacts of the project;
  • Arrangements for involvement of affected communities, minorities, and vulnerable groups in the project;
  • The manner in which the project is implemented.
  • The following steps will normally be followed by the CAO when a complaint is received:

1. Acknowledgement of receipt

2. Eligibility screening

The screening will lead to a decision whether the complaint meets the criteria for further assessment by the CAO (15 working days). The CAO will deem the complaint eligible if:

The complaint pertains to a project that IFC/MIGA is participating in, or is actively considering.

  • The issues raised in the complaint pertain to the CAO’s mandate to address environmental and social impacts of IFC/MIGA projects.
  • The complainant is, or may be, affected by the environmental and/or social impacts raised in the complaint.  

3. Assessment

The assessment of the complaint may take up to 120 working days. Its aim is to:

  • Develop a thorough understanding of the issues and concerns raised in the complaint.
  • Engage with the complainant and IFC/MIGA client.
  • Identify the local communities and any additional stakeholders relevant to the complaint.
  • Explain to the stakeholders the different roles of the CAO.
  • Determine which CAO role the parties seek to initiate. 

The review process can include research in IFC/MIGA files, meetings with stakeholders, site visits and public meetings in the project area. The assessment will cover the complaint and its context, including the stakeholders, their views and incentives to reach resolution, and what processes might be most useful to them. The process concludes with a decision by the parties involved to pursue a dispute resolution process or compliance appraisal.

4. Dispute resolution or Compliance appraisal

  • Dispute Resolution: If the parties agree to seek joint resolution to the issues, a mutually agreed process using a flexible, collaborative and problem-solving approach will be designed and implemented. The focus of the CAO’s dispute resolution role is on directly accessing affected individuals and helping them resolve complaints. Approaches may include facilitation and information sharing, joint fact-finding, dialogue and negotiation, and mediation and conciliation. When the issues are resolved by agreement between the parties, the process goes to monitoring/close out (step 5). If at any point in this process a party no longer wishes to pursue dispute resolution, the case is transferred to Compliance.
  • Compliance: If one or more of the parties choose Compliance, or the case is transferred from Dispute Resolution, a two-step approach is initiated. This process is focused on IFC and MIGA, not their client, and assesses how IFC/MIGA assured themselves of the performance of their business activity or advice, as well as whether the outcomes of the business activity or advice are consistent with the intent of the relevant policy provisions. The first step of the approach is a compliance appraisal (45 working days). The appraisal assesses the outcomes on the ground and their relevance in the context of IFC’s/MIGA’s policy provisions. If the appraisal determines that a compliance investigation is not warranted, the CAO will release an Appraisal Report and close the case. Otherwise, the CAO will proceed to the second step, and conduct a compliance investigation. This step evaluates evidence to determine whether the project, and in particular its environmental and/or social outcomes, meet the IFC’s/MIGA’s own policies, Performance Standards, guidelines, procedures and conditionality. The compliance process does not require agreement from all parties to be initiated and findings from the Compliance process are made public.

5. Monitoring and follow-up

6. Conclusion of the CAO’s involvement


Any mutually-agreed outcome is possible under the CAO-facilitated dispute resolution process. Where possible, agreements include provisions to make them binding on the parties and provide for implementation, review and monitoring within set timelines. 

The CAO Compliance process results in findings relating to IFC and MIGA regarding due process in applying their standards and policies, which require a response from the institution(s) (cleared by the President). Both are then made public.  


  • After CAO-facilitated dispute resolution - Where the parties have reached agreement, the CAO will assist in monitoring the implementation of the agreements. Agreements will usually contain a program and timelines for implementation. The outcomes are publicly disclosed on the CAO’s website.
  • After CAO Compliance process - In cases where IFC/MIGA is/are found to be in compliance, the CAO will close the investigation. In cases where IFC/MIGA is/are found to be out of compliance, the CAO will keep the compliance investigation open and monitor the situation until actions by IFC/MIGA assure the CAO that they are addressing the noncompliance. The CAO will then close the compliance investigation. The status of all compliance cases are made public by CAO.


Website of the CAO 

IFC Policy and Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability.

CAO Operational Guidelines (including a model letter of complaint)

Last edited: 
March, 2015

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