April 4, 2017

Sometimes designing a legitimate dispute resolution process requires examining both company responsibilities as well as deeper structural problems given the country and operational context. No easy thread to tie.

Recently I’ve been involved with two vexing corporate-community-government engagements that embody this dilemma. The first is with a Honduran palm oil company that had fallen short of IFC’s social and environmental performance requirements while operating in a region marked by violence and social instability. The second is in the Sayaxché area of northern Guatemala where international palm oil buyers seek to drive major shifts in producer sustainability policies amid deep tensions over land, labor, human rights and agricultural development patterns.

The complexity of both cases meant that meaningfully addressing community concerns required much more than course-corrections on corporate policies and procedures. Rather, in both, I’ve found need to acknowledge and deal with underlying structural problems as well: longstanding disputes over land rights and access, pervasive regional crime, impunity, and polarized views regarding what sustainable socio-economic development should look like in troubled regions, just to name a few.

Any one of these issues alone can be daunting. Together, they can feel insurmountable. Yet intense international pressure and shifting market demands can sometimes create moments of opportunity to bring parties together on the toughest issues. The potential is greater when many parties are dissatisfied with the status quo, and when they recognize that some form of cooperation and collective action may be the only way to achieve desired outcomes.