Continuous improvement is core to the RSPO, from the Principles and Criteria (P&C) to the Supply Chain Certification Standard and Systems, and beyond. This also applies to the Secretariat’s core support functions and departments. Recently, the RSPO Grievance Unit (the “Unit”) has been working to improve its administrative processes and procedures, and service delivery with the aim of increasing efficiency and serving RSPO members and stakeholders better. The implementation of the Complaints and Appeals Procedures managed to increase the closure rate of complaints, but the Unit is striving for further improvement in the processing of complaints as well as reducing the backlog of cases.

We spoke to Pravin Rajandran, who has been officially appointed as the Head of the Grievance Unit earlier this year, to find out more about his plans for the year ahead.

Can you share with us your plans to increase the efficiency of the Unit and take it to greater heights?
I want the team members of our Unit to be ‘more out there’. I want them to communicate regularly with their colleagues from other departments and units in the RSPO Secretariat so that we build even stronger relationships with them. Previously, our work was viewed by some internally to be too legalistic and it could be a challenge to hold discussions with us that wasn’t veering into legal jargon. I want to change all that.

Teamwork is at the core of the Secretariat, and we need to make sure all resources are utilised as a complaint can involve various elements, which may require the expertise of our colleagues from other departments. We also need input from our colleagues in other geographies to understand the real situation on the ground. We now have more group discussions with them to tap their expertise. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and that the Secretariat is dealing with an issue as a whole.    

As a Unit, we aim to improve ourselves in ensuring that complaints are dealt with in a fair and impartial manner, while at the same time striving to resolve the complaints quickly and efficiently. We also need to ensure that our principles and ethics are not compromised and the independence of the Complaints System and the Complaints Panel are upheld.   

To serve our stakeholders better, we are also expanding the complaints team. We will retain our internal talents in the organisation to ensure that the team grows.

What kind of complaints do we normally receive? Can you share with us some relevant statistics?
We receive complaints on a number of matters. It could be labour issues, land-related issues, environmental, or social issues. From 2009 to March this year, we received a total of 143 complaints and we managed to close 101 or 70% of the complaints.

We are also pleased to share that the number of complaints that were closed from 2018 to 2019 increased by almost 44%. The higher closure rate is due to the implementation of the new Complaints and Appeals Procedures implemented in 2018 and a dedicated Complaints Panel. 

What are the problems that the Grievance Unit faced in dealing with complaints?
There are two major issues worth highlighting. Sometimes, a complaint can be very complex and it may involve various parties and stakeholders, and a large volume of documents. The case managers need to spend a lot of time reading through the voluminous documents carefully to ensure that everything is presented correctly. The process takes time. We are being extra careful to ensure that everything is captured. Besides that, it is also important to note that case managers are not only dealing with one specific complaint at a time, but they will have a caseload of complaints to work through.

The second issue is, some parties do not completely understand the concept of an independent Complaints System. They constantly place pressure on it which could hamper the progress of resolving a complaint. Everyone involved needs to understand and respect the independence of the Complaints Panel and the Complaints System, so that we can uphold the implementation of the Complaints and Appeals Procedures effectively.

There may have been delays in the past, but since the implementation of the Complaints and Appeals Procedures, and along with a dedicated and hardworking Complaints team, I believe we are improving and moving at a reasonable pace now.

There are some new members on the Complaints Panel. Tell us more.
Our Complaints Panel is well-represented as our members come from diverse backgrounds and sectors. They are also very knowledgeable on the issues concerning RSPO and the work we do. Some of our new members have a lot of experience as they have been actively involved in the RSPO fraternity as stakeholders for quite some time. They are well-versed with both the RSPO processes and the requirements of the complaints system, and they are also very supportive in imparting their knowledge and expertise for the betterment of not only the Complaints Unit, but also the RSPO as a whole.

Discover more about how the RSPO Complaints and Appeals Procedure works, by watching this short video.

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