What’s interesting about this case, and what are some of the lessons that we capture in this Tool Kit?

Since the day in 2005 when 50,000 people in two small communities largely unknown to the world spontaneously marched to a bridge to protest the installation of two giant paper pulp mills, entirely of their own volition with no NGO encouragement of any kind, something very fundamental has changed in the way people at the local, national and even international level think about the environment and about development, particularly development finance.

Our organization (Centro de Derechos Humanos y Ambiente- CEDHA) became involved in this case after that historical march. Our involvement resulted partially from an invitation by the public authorities, partially from our own initiative, and finally, slowly, due to the relationship that we began to forge with a social movement which was very clear about what it wanted, and didn’t want in its own back yard.

The case appeared at a key juncture in the evolution of global thinking on Corporate Accountability. Whilst the UN system was grappling with the links between business and human rights, and with groups around the world trying to make sense of a very disorderly and imbalanced system of forums for victim complaints against companies for violations for environmental laws and human rights, this case provided an opportunity to delve deeper into the actual social and environmental dimensions of international development investments.

We saw in this case from the very beginning a great opportunity, an opportunity to test many of the forums that had appeared allegedly to provide guarantees that development investments would not cause irreversible harm. It was an opportunity in the specific case before us, to push the bar higher on corporate accountability, and to assist an affected community in resisting and ultimately expelling what might be a legal, but nonetheless contaminating industry away from a pristine natural environment which forms an integral part of the culture and identity of the local people.

With some knowledge (but little practical experience) of a select few international accountability forums under our belt, we embarked on a scoping exercise to identify what was out there in terms of accountability for corporate abuses. We attempted to evaluate these forums, considering both their appropriateness for the specific case at hand, as well as our own limited knowledge (and even more scare financing) to approach them.

Our own organization benefited from perspectives deriving from rapidly changing circumstances. We were an NGO, but one of our key team members (the founder of CEDHA) became Environment Secretary of Argentine (and the Argentine Government was party to the case). As Secretary, she was sent as envoy to negotiate Argentina’s position before the World Bank Group, and also managed bilateral relations with governments such as the US, the European Union, etc. We also were working closely with the UN System and as such had direct access to high level policy discussion with key institutions and agencies enaging on development finance. We were members of several key international civil society networks, also heavily engaged in these debate and advocacy.

With these particular vantage points, we systematically tried everything within our reach, choosing some forums because we were familiar with them (like the Inter-American Human Rights System), others because we simply knew of them and because they seemed appropriate, and still others because we discovered them during the course of the case. We even tried forums that didn’t exist such as the Equator Principles (more about that later)–with remarkable results. We experienced a wide variety of results, some very successful, some irrelevant, some total failures.

What was interesting to us about this experience, and what we’d like to convey to the reader, is the experience we had “on the whole”. Very few single cases actually engage with so many different access to justice forums. This multi-forum shopping (criticized by some, but hailed by others) provided a unique introspection into how the world of corporate accountability works as a system, and in particular, how within a single case, with the same evidence and information, each forum measures in terms of its effectiveness in providing real accountability. What’s very interesting, and what many individuals working in high level international development policy making at organizations like the UN and the World Bank, and at several philanthropic foundations recognized,  is comparing the results from forum to forum.

Literally, hundreds of people have contacted us over the years since we first engaged on this case, inquiring about our experience in one forum or another or asking about our relationship with the local community, exploring the intricate dimensions of this fascinating social movement that maintained a multiple-year round-the-clock international roadblock with no NGO support or financing, and which continues to oppose the mills to this date.

Those that don’t see the value of the big picture, inevitably get lost and lose perspective of the case, concentrating on why a particular forum worked or failed in the case. This approach, evidenlty has some important intrinsic value and as such the focused forum analysis should not be minimized as un-important. But the real value added of this case is about the the ” system as a whole” and what we can learn form understanding a case in the most comprehensive manner possible, with its various political, social, economic and environmental dimensions operating in tandem. Our response to this approach is something we’ve come to call “comprehensive advocacy”, which is an advocacy approach that departs from a holistic understanding of a case before us.

What we began to see and what we’ve learned from our own errors and successes in this case, is that most of the time we, as NGOs, miss the real issues, the real decision making issues, the “drivers” as we call them, that most influence a given case.  And many times when we are having some degree of success in a given forum (which is common for most any case) we get confused and we erroneously think that because our advocacy has resulted in a local, national, or even international headline, or advancement that we’re influencing the outcomes of the case, when in fact, the most important political decision that will decide the medular issues we are concerned with might be occurring in some back room of a Finance Ministry or Presidential office in a country we’ve absolutely ignored, and over such decisions, we have absolutely no influence whatsoever.

We might be sitting before a supposedly “independent” judge in an accountability forum in which we’ve vested our (and the community’s ) trust, and yet when that judge walks away from our mediation meeting with the company, (s)he turns around and dons an investment promoter’s hat, meeting with the company a day later to discuss the terms of the Export Credit loan the they are about to receive from the government. While we may remain in our secluded advocacy dimension, the actors we are trying to influence, many times, do not remain in theirs, and they are very much engaged in a multiple set of forums, which eventually move them along in an almost linear direction towards advancing their own interests.

What we generally do not realize is that within institutions , (be they government, private or other types of  institutions) which we tend to label and treat as singular or monolithic, there are personal dynamics that drive our cases- personal agendas, career struggles, human ambition, personality issues, and other mundane dynamics that may be more important to our case than the formal procedures we wade through in the standard access to justice forums. So while we may think that a complaint we’ve filed at a human rights tribunal may have enormous influence on our case, in fact, the timing around a loan officer’s career promotion at a giant multinational private financial institution may actually have more influence over whether the company we are targetting gets crucial financial support to move with their investment project. If we’re ignorant of such sensitivities, the likelihood that we are pressing the right buttons in our advocacy strategy is greatly reduced.

Further, institutions are not monolithic, nor are all the actors within an institution necesarilly oriented or marching in the same direction. There may be counterfocrces within an institution, some sympathetic to our cause. There may be formal roles and function of the members of a public financial institution such as an Export Credit Agency, that on the one hand promote investments while on the other, control them for environmental due diligence. This happened in our case for example, as concerns the Finnish Export Credit Agency Finnvera and the role of public functionaries that both promoted investments while serving as neutral mediators under the OECD Guidelines procedures.

These sorts of governmental inconsistencies and inefficiencies, these human elements, and these unexpected or hidden agendas are the political, social, and economic realities behind all cases. These are the real dynamics of the circumstances that surround any international advocacy action. If we are not careful to look for them the likelihood of our success is tremendously reduced.

As NGOs we are generally insensitive to these nuances. We commented to an experienced NGO advocate recently that we had filed an OECD Complaint in a different case. She responded rather lightly, “Good luck, we’ve seen that the the OECD Guidelines system is rather useless”. She clearly had a knee-jerk reaction to the OECD process, for its systematic inability over the years to resolve cases satisfactorily. Our view, however, is quite different. We were able to use the OECD process very successfully, not because it resolved our case, but because the OECD process gained us enormous leverage that we would not otherwise have had. In three cases (or Specific Instances as they are called under the OECD), the filings we made to the National Contact Points:

  • Were practically the only leverage we had to oblige Finland to engage (which they did practically 24hrs after our complaint was filed);
  • Set global precedent on the importance of States to consider private banking complicity by way of association to corporate complicity in violations;

If we did not understand the politics that surround the OECD process. If we were not clear about the potential results of the filings, if we did not have our own objectives clear in our presentations we too would think that the OECD filings were useless. Instead, we were able to separate the elements of the case, and move a piece on the advocacy chess board creatively to gain a small be fundamental advantage. Understanding this choice, understanding the options, understanding the limits, and more generally, understanding the chessboard, is what this really is all about.

Focus Points of the Advocacy Tool:

  • This case involved the filing of over 15 complaints before legal and extra-judicial access-to-justice forums around the world, at the national and international level;
    This case advocacy tool summarizes these complaints, analyzes their effectiveness or failures and provides unique comparative analysis between forums;   
  • The analysis breaks down the dynamics of the various dimensions (economic, political, social, etc.) of the case (applicable to many other situations).
    The advocacy tool reflects and offers critical points and issues to consider related to more general case advocacy;  
  • The advocacy tool posits a framework for considering how to define advocacy strategies in what we have come to call Comprehensive Advocacy, a method by which we define key actors, relevant access to justice forums, and potential for gaining accountability. We devote a chapter to Comprehensive Advocacy;
  • With over a hundred press releases issued in multiple languages in this case, a specific chapter on “communications” examines press releases drafted in the case.The tool analyzes advocacy communications  and press releases more generally in terms of how to best leverage advocacy messages, honing in on target audiences, defining communication objectives, designing and pitching press releases.

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This book has many readings.

On one hand, it is a narrative which in and of itself may prove interesting to some readers, offering a unique vision into how international politics and development really operates.

It may also be interesting for other NGO advocates who have similar cases and who are trying to map out their own strategies in attempts to surmount the many international development hurdles in the defense of communities and other stakeholders. It offers examples of how to better influence the target actors one is trying to leverage.

We do not pretend to have the answers to all of the many challenges that stakeholder groups, NGOs, and communities face in their advocacy, but we do believe that our particular experience with the Uruguayan Pulp Mill case offers a fascinating introspection into the world of international development politics and finance that is often opaque and intangible for those most affected by it or attempting to influence it, even by very experienced advocacy actors.

What we hope to impart through the publication of this case summary and Advocacy Tool the lessons that we’ve learned about the dynamics behind human and institutional behavior, and the corresponding advocacy strategies and choices that make some actions successful while others fail.

The views exposed in this book are obviously biased by our own subjective position in the case. However, we hope that they will provide all actors with interesting material and thoughts about how the world in which we live and work really operates, and how we can make it, in the end, a better and more sustainable place to live for everyone.