English: How to File a Complaint

Arne Hoel, The World Bank

CAO works with communities and civil society organizations all over the world to help resolve issues of concern around IFC/MIGA projects. This section explains how to file a complaint to CAO and what to expect from the process.  Browse our cases to learn more about the work we do and solutions we can help facilitate.

What is the CAO?

CAO is the independent recourse mechanism for projects supported by the private sector agencies of the World Bank Group - the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). IFC and MIGA promote poverty reduction through private sector development in countries around the world.  When people believe they may be affected negatively by an IFC or MIGA project, they can request help from CAO to address their concerns. CAO works with all the key parties involved in a project to find real solutions that improve social and environmental outcomes on the ground.

Who can make a complaint?

Any individual, group, community, or other party can make a complaint to CAO if they believe they are, or may be, affected by an IFC or MIGA project(s). Complaints may be made on behalf of those affected by a representative or organization.

What are the criteria for making a complaint?

CAO has 3 simple eligibility criteria for a complaint to qualify for assessment:

  1. Complaint relates to an IFC or MIGA project (including projects under consideration)
  2. Complaint relates to social and/or environmental issues associated with that project(s)
  3. Complainant believes they are, or may be, affected by the social and/or environmental issues raised
What types of complaints are not accepted?
  • CAO cannot accept complaints that do not meet the 3 eligibility criteria. If complaints relate to other financing institutions (i.e. not IFC or MIGA), CAO endeavors to direct the complainant to the right office.
  • Complaints with allegations of fraud and corruption are referred to the World Bank Office of Institutional Integrity. CAO also cannot review complaints related to IFC and MIGA procurement decisions.
  • CAO does not accept complaints that are malicious, trivial, or generated to gain competitive advantage.
Do I need supporting evidence to make my claim?

No, you do not need to submit supporting evidence to make a complaint.  However, if you wish to submit additional material to support your case, it is welcome.

Can I request confidentiality?

Yes. CAO takes confidentiality extremely seriously and, if requested, we will not reveal the identify of complainants.  Where confidentiality is requested, a process for handling the complaint will be agreed jointly between CAO and the complainant.  In addition, materials submitted on a confidential basis by the complainant will not be released without their consent.

Once I file a complaint, what happens next?

CAO will acknowledge receipt of your complaint in the language in which it was submitted.   Within 15 working days (not counting time required for translation of complaints and supporting documents), CAO will inform you whether the complaint is eligible for further assessment. If eligible, you will receive information explaining how CAO will work with you to help address the issues of concern, and a CAO specialist will contact you personally.

How does the complaint handling process work?

CAO follows a specific procedure for every complaint and is committed to addressing complaints in a timely manner.  If a complaint meets CAO's 3 eligibility criteria:

  • CAO Ombudsman first works with the complainant, project sponsor, and other local stakeholders to determine whether the parties together can reach a mutually agreeable solution to the issues raised.
  • If the parties are unwilling or unable to reach agreement on how to resolve an issue, CAO Compliance undertakes an appraisal of IFC/MIGA's compliance with relevant social and environmental policies and guidelines to determine whether an audit is warranted.

See CAO's Operational Guidelines for details on the process and timeline.

How does the CAO Ombudsman work on a complaint?

CAO Ombudsman conducts an assessment of the situation, and assists the parties in determining the best alternatives for resolving a complaint. The Ombudsman does not make a judgment about the merits of a complaint, nor does it impose solutions or find fault. Our specialists work together with the parties to identify alternative  approaches and strategies for addressing the issues.   This could involve joint fact-finding, facilitating discussions between key stakeholders, mediating disputes between parties, or establishing  a dialogue table or joint monitoring program.  CAO specialists are trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) with expertise in conflict assessment, mediation, and multiparty facilitation. We work with independent  mediators who have country-specific experience and who specialize in facilitation and consensus building around development projects.   Browse Our Cases to see examples of our work.

What is the role of CAO Compliance?

If resolution of a complaint is not possible with our Ombudsman, CAO Compliance takes over the case. The rationale for this "compliance check" is to assess whether issues raised in the complaint raise questions about IFC or MIGA's social and environmental due diligence on the relevant project.  CAO conducts an appraisal and, if an audit is necessary, an independent panel is convened to conduct an investigation of the issues. Findings are publicly disclosed and CAO monitors implementation of recommendations until the project is back in compliance.  Importantly, compliance audits focus on IFC and MIGA - not the project sponsor (the private sector client that received support from IFC/MIGA).

How and where do I file my complaint?

Complaints must be submitted in writing and may be in any language.  Complaints can be sent by e-mail, fax, mail/post, or delivered to the Office of the CAO in Washington, DC. For guidance on how to write a complaint, see the ‘Compliant Letter Template’ above.   

Contact us

If you have questions about filing a complaint or about CAO's work with civil society, please contact us.  We want to hear from you:

Office of the CAO

2121 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20433, USA

T: + 1 202 458 1973

F: + 1 202 522 7400

E-mail: cao-compliance@ifc.org