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 accountability mechanism for projects supported by the private sector arms 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 Intergrity Office. 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.  After finding a complaint eligible, CAO conducts an assessment. The purpose of CAO’s assessment is to:


(1) clarify the issues and concerns raised by the complainant(s);

(2) gather information on how other stakeholders see the situation; and

(3) help stakeholders understand the recourse options available to them and determine whether they would like to pursue a collaborative solution through CAO’s Dispute Resolution function, or whether the case should be reviewed by CAO’s Compliance function. As per CAO’s Operational Guidelines, the following steps are typically followed in response to a complaint that is received:


Step 1:     Acknowledgement of receipt of the complaint.

Step 2:     Eligibility: Determination of the complaint’s eligibility for assessment under the mandate of the CAO (no more than 15 working days).

Step 3:     Assessment: Assessing the issues and providing support to stakeholders in understanding and determining whether they would like to pursue a consensual solution through a collaborative process convened by CAO’s Dispute Resolution function, or whether the case should be handled by CAO’s Compliance function to review IFC’s/MIGA’s environmental and social due diligence. The assessment time can take up to a maximum of 120 working days.

Step 4:   Dispute Resolution: If the parties choose to pursue a collaborative process, CAO’s dispute resolution function is initiated. The dispute resolution process is typically based on or initiated by a Memorandum of Understanding and/or mutually agreed-upon ground rules between the parties. It may involve facilitation/mediation, joint fact finding, or other agreed resolution approaches leading to a settlement agreement or other mutually agreed and appropriate goals. The major objective of these types of problem-solving approaches will be to address the issues raised in the complaint, and any other significant issues relevant to the complaint that were identified during the assessment or the dispute-resolution process, in a way that is acceptable to the parties affected.


Compliance Review: If the parties opt for a Compliance process, CAO’s Compliance function will initiate an appraisal of IFC’s/MIGA’s environmental and social due diligence of the project in question to determine whether a compliance investigation of IFC’s/MIGA’s performance related to the project is merited. The appraisal time can take up to a maximum of 45 working days. If an investigation is found to be merited, CAO Compliance will conduct an in-depth investigation into IFC’s/MIGA’s performance. An investigation report with any identified non-compliances will be made public, along with IFC’s/MIGA’s response.

Step 5:     Monitoring and Follow-up

Step 6:     Conclusion/Case Closure


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

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, or delivered to the CAO Office in Washington, DC. For guidance on how to write a complaint, see the ‘Complaint Letter Template’ in the links above.

Contact us

If you have questions about filing a complaint or about CAO's work, please contact us:

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@worldbankgroup.org