Accountability Counsel's Senior Communities Attorney, Caitlin Daniel, and Mongolian affected herder, Munkhchuluum (Photo credit: Accountability Counsel)

Helping communities defend their rights

Why we invested: Accountability Counsel

We are excited to provide Accountability Counsel with a two-year, unrestricted grant of $500,000, Here’s why.

The news is littered with stories of massive infrastructure projects that displace communities, undermine the livelihoods of indigenous people, or lead to violent conflict. These projects are often bank-rolled by international financial institutions like development banks that are based thousands of miles away from the mines, dams, and energy plants that they finance.  While many governments have judicial and administrative processes to handle complaints and compensation, those processes are often tainted by corruption or a lack of credibility. In a nutshell, affected communities often lack the knowledge or capacity to defend their own rights.

Accountability Counsel supports people harmed by these development projects with community-driven and policy-level strategies to ensure that financial flows do no harm, support local development, and do not undermine human rights. They have pioneered a route to accountability which empowers the affected communities to lodge complaints directly with international financial institutions’ accountability offices, avoiding expensive and often compromised litigation proceedings. This tactic also helps to fight corruption risks around governments’ decision-making regarding these projects, both in terms of personal enrichment (e.g. via preferential access for contractors) and power (e.g. gaining political wins at the expense of marginalised communities). 

Accountability Counsel runs three connected programmes of work:

  1. Communities: At the request of communities, Accountability Counsel provides people with the tools and training to use accountability offices to hold corporations and institutions accountable. The programme also conducts trainings and workshops to exchange information with local groups.
  2. Policy Advocacy: The Policy programme fights for systemic policy change to ensure that international financial institutions and development agencies have fair, independent, transparent, and effective accountability offices to prevent abuse and provide communities with greater access to justice.
  3. Research: The Research programme informs the global movement for accountability in international finance through data and research tools, including the development of the Accountability Console, a comprehensive database of complaints filed against projects financed by international financial institutions. 

We are particularly excited about the way their Communities programme informs and works with their Policy Advocacy programme, allowing them to apply the lessons from the Communities programme cases directly into policy for institutions like the World Bank. 

Since its start in 2009, Accountability Counsel’s work has directly impacted the lives of millions of people facing human rights and environmental abuses and their advocates in 50 countries. One such success was in Mongolia, where Accountability Counsel supported nomadic herders over a five-year period in achieving a landmark set of agreements to remedy harm caused by Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine and its planned expansion. Accountability Counsel staff provided trainings, technical assistance, and in-person support to help the herders prepare for negotiations with the mining company and local government, and the community ultimately succeeded in securing commitments of improved compensation for herders, new wells to address water shortages, and scholarships for area children. It serves as a model for how marginalised communities can hold companies, their institutional investors (in this case the IFC),  and government accountable, and for how corporations can settle conflicts to address projects’ ESG impacts.

In addition to their impressive programmes, we were particularly drawn to Accountability Counsel’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and their commitment to listening to the needs of each community with which they’re working. The organisation doesn’t solicit cases, instead responding to requests for assistance from communities themselves. Once Accountability Counsel is working with a community, they work to identify and address forms of discrimination and hierarchy that are specific to that community and pay particular attention to the rights of women and girls and other marginalised groups. They employ respect-based methods to ensure that all community members are included as full participants in strategies seeking accountability.  

Luminate’s Financial Transparency strategy emphasises the need to pair standards for openness with increased focus on accountability and enforcement. Accountability Counsel fits well with this approach: it empowers local communities to seek their own redress in the face of projects financed by foreign or global institutions, while striving to strengthen the accountability standards of those institutions through direct advocacy.

We are excited to work with and support such a focused, values-driven organisation that is helping communities become their own change-makers and defenders of their rights.

Hear more about Accountability Counsel's work from Founder and Executive Director Natalie Bridgeman Fields