Accountability Counsel: Working from the Bottom and the Top to Amplify Community Voices
Accountability Counsel (AC) is committed to helping individuals and communities harmed by internationally financed development projects through entirely non-judicial mechanisms. It does not file lawsuits or claims against companies or banks. Rather, it works to help communities access and effectively use multilateral development banks’ Accountability Offices. These offices of organizations like the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are ideally places where communities can bring their concerns about a project the bank is financing. However, communities are usually unaware that these offices even exist, and then face many challenges in accessing them. Communities harmed by development projects financed by international institutions are often the most marginalized. They have little access to resources. They have little political power. They face knowledge asymmetries, and sometimes direct intimidation from the bank, project management, or local government. AC works to amplify these communities’ voices to access human rights and environmental justice. The most major societal change AC would like to see is financial actors (banks, individual investors) being active positive forces in the fight to improve human rights around the world. It wants to recast the financial sector as a powerful agent for protecting human rights.
This collaborative feedback loop at AC is made up of its three distinct teams that each work at a different level ranging from grassroots to international policy: the Global Communities team, the Policy Advocacy team, and the Research team. The Global Communities team is made up of lawyers who work directly with communities to support locally-led strategies. This team engages with communities on the local level. AC lawyers travel to a community, form relationships with members, and closely support it through the complaint process, which can often take years. The Policy Advocacy team, in contrast, does not engage with individual communities, but rather works to improve the policies and regulations governing development finance. It advocates for Accountability Offices to uphold the social and environmental standards to which institutions have agreed and for the creation of new Accountability Offices where they do not yet exist. The Policy Advocacy team works on an entirely different scale than the Global Communities team, but their work is extremely collaborative and integrated. If the Global Communities team encounters a loophole in a policy that has opened the door for human rights transgressions, it shares that loophole with the Policy Advocacy team. The policy team then works to close that loophole in the international regulation in order to prevent similar transgressions from occurring in the future. The Research Team works to document the lessons learned in communities and this policy work through a public database. When launched, this database will contain information about any complaint ever filed with any Accountability Office around the world. Both the Policy Advocacy and Global Communities teams will be able to use this database—at the policy level, to influence financial institutions and actors; at the local level, to increase access to reliable, transparent information. The work of the Research Team also adds actors outside AC itself to this informational feedback loop. Since the database will be public, financial actors will ideally be able to learn from past projects that have had negative social and environmental impacts.