As an elementary component of a risk management system, complaint management reveals weak points in operational processes and thus enables the implementation of preventive measures so that violations do not occur in the first place. It also provides information on whether remedial measures are actually effective. It is thus an early warning system and access to appropriate remedial action in one. The more human rights or environmental risks a company identifies, the more effort is needed to implement and access the grievance system.
The LkSG requires companies to establish a complaints procedure that must be “accessible to potential users, maintain identity confidentiality and ensure effective protection against disadvantage or punishment on the basis of a complaint”. To support companies in the practical implementation of this requirement, BAFA (Federal Office of Economics and Export Control) has published a handout.
Reporting channels tailored to target groups
The manual leaves a great deal of leeway in the design of the system, especially with regard to the type of reporting channels. For example, different channels such as email, telephone, software solution, ombudsperson or participation in external procedures may be combined. Not all groups need to have access to the same complaints procedure. It should be noted that the communication and design of the complaint channels must be appropriate for the target group. This concerns language, clarity, the place of publication and barrier-free access to the reporting system. In the first step, the addressees of the complaints procedure are persons in the company’s own business area and in the supply chain. It is important that this group of people is enabled to submit reports to the company with a low-threshold offer.
Observe process sequence
In addition to the rules of procedure, which define the scope of application, list the individual complaint channels and set out further information on the complaints system in writing, the central points of the handout are the procedure for the complaints procedure and how to deal with persons giving information. In the first step after receiving a complaint, an acknowledgement of receipt must be sent to the person giving the information. Furthermore, continuous contact between the whistleblower and the whistleblower is required in order to clarify the next steps and the time frame. In addition, the whistleblower’s rights to protection against discrimination or punishment should be explicitly explained to the whistleblower.
Afterwards, the complaint is examined and, if necessary, a feedback with reasons is given to the whistleblower if the report does not fall within the scope of the complaints system. A detailed clarification of the facts with the whistleblower leads to a better understanding on the part of the whistleblower and promotes trust in the process. In addition, expectations regarding remedial and preventive measures can be clarified and, if necessary, a procedure for the amicable settlement of disputes can be established.
In the next step, remedial measures should be worked out in an exchange with the person giving the information and, if necessary, the possibility of making amends should also be discussed. The corresponding measures must then be implemented and followed up. Ideally, the result achieved is evaluated together with the person making the referral. In addition, the effectiveness of the procedure must be reviewed annually or on an ad hoc basis. If necessary, adjustments must be made to the procedure or the remedial measure.
As reports are usually very sensitive, it is essential that the identity of the person making the report is kept absolutely confidential. The possibility to make an anonymous report is not required by law, but is strongly recommended.
In order to ensure protection against discrimination or punishment, appropriate measures must be defined and communicated when the complaints system is introduced. In addition, the consequences that threaten if the protection of a whistleblower is violated must be pointed out. It is advisable to stay in contact with the whistleblower even after the complaint has been closed.
Implementation of requirements
The LkSG requires that the reporting channels be designed in a way that is appropriate for the target group, and that they must also be easily accessible and barrier-free. For complainants with access to the internet, online tools are suitable for recording reports and forwarding them to the complaints office. But all other persons, regardless of their limitations, must also have access to a reporting channel for the complaints system. Companies will therefore establish different reporting channels that can be used by illiterate people, children, minorities, people with physical/mental disabilities, etc. as well as by people who have access to the internet and online tools. The reports from the different channels should then be collected, processed and documented in a central place.
For the implementation of the complaint management system according to the LkSG, it is therefore obvious to fall back on already established software solutions for the careful and systematic processing of tips. otris whistleblower makes it possible to summarise, process as well as document complaints from all channels. Once a report has been received, the entire process – from confirmation of receipt to case closure – is logged in the system. In addition, workflows are available for the follow-up of preventive and remedial measures. If the decision is made in favour of an external dispute resolution procedure, the documentation in the system can be used.
Likewise, the requirements of the BAFA question catalogue are fulfilled. The application provides the corresponding key figures on target duration and real duration of the procedures, total number of complaints, proportion of remedied complaints, etc.
Protection through anonymity
For reports coming directly via the reporting platform, the application protects the identity of the whistleblower via a technically secured communication channel: complainant and complaint recipient communicate via a web-based reporting platform that encrypts all exchanged data. The reporting person can choose whether to report anonymously or leave contact details.