Accountability Counsel – San Francisco Helps Communities Around the World With Legal Issues

Great article about this non profit that provides legal advice around the world

Read about them in this pbs piece

In Peru, communities felt they were being harmed by an oil company. In Mexico, people were dealing with the effects of a hydroelectric project. Those were the first cases lawyer Natalie Bridgeman Fields took, helping communities seeking compensation from large-scale developers.

At first, she was the only one handling the cases starting to trickle into her new nonprofit, the San Francisco-based Accountability Counsel, and to her knowledge she was the only lawyer focused on people filing grievances through little-known accountability offices, rather than going through the courts.

International development institutions, such as the World Bank, have provided accountability offices since the mid-1990s to take complaints from people who believe the financial institutions are violating their own rules.

“I started Accountability Counsel in 2009 as a direct response to seeing communities all over the world having pressing human rights and environmental abuses go unaddressed,” she said.


Here’s their About Us Page to give you a better idea of what they do and how they do it


Accountability Counsel amplifies the voices of communities around the world to protect their human rights and environment. As advocates for people harmed by internationally-financed projects, we employ community driven and policy level strategies to access justice.

Why We Are Needed

Accountability Counsel supports local communities and creates systems to hold nearly one trillion dollars a year of internationally financed development projects accountable to human rights and environmental standards. These projects, such as dams, mines and oil pipelines, are notorious for their environmental and human rights impacts, such as forced displacement of indigenous people, poisoning of rivers used for drinking water, and sexual abuse of women and girls by foreign workers. The very projects meant to lift people out of poverty often have the opposite impact.

The millions of people a year who suffer these types of abuses have few options for recourse. Those who most need access to justice are those facing the greatest barriers to information, have least political power, the fewest financial resources, and the least amount of professional support required to seek it. Accountability Counsel exists to bridge these barriers for communities and create accountability in development finance resulting in systemic change.

How We Work

Our team of lawyers specializes in non-judicial complaint offices established to receive community complaints.  We focus on over two dozen of these complaint offices, including those of each multilateral development bank (MDB), many export promotion agencies, and the OECD National Contact Points.

Our work pays particular attention to women, children and other marginalized groups, who are often the most deeply harmed by abuses.

We work only upon requests for assistance from local communities and in close partnership with grassroots and regional organizations in each case.

As part of our mission, the groups we train are able to continue long-term advocacy for accountability in development finance in their communities, regions, and countries.

Our Programs

We accomplish our mission through three programs:

(1) Communities

Our lawyers assist communities with all aspects of effectively using little-known complaint offices tied to projects that cause harm. Our client communities’ needs drive the type of assistance we provide, ranging from in depth, multi-year involvement at every stage of a process, to discrete advising at key stages.

(2) Policy Advocacy

We advocate for complaint offices that are accessible, independent, transparent, fair and effective tools for justice. We also advocate for new accountability offices where none exist.

(3) Resources

We provide trainings and tools for communities and their advocates to understand how complaint offices work, we collaborate with a network of global accountability advocates, and conduct research and track data and trends within the accountability field to foster the global movement.

Accountability Counsel is independent from the influence of governments, corporations and other institutions. We are devoted to ensuring that the voices of communities are heard and respected.  Our brochure, Raising Voices, Demanding Justice, describes who we are and what we do.


Attorney Natalie Bridgeman Fields founded Accountability Counsel to continue over a decade of her work toward environmental and human rights accountability in international finance and development through trainings, claim support and policy advocacy.  Accountability Counsel’s status as a non-profit organization began in September 2009 after Natalie received an Echoing Green Fellowship to support Accountability Counsel’s work.  We are head-quartered in San Francisco, California and have an office in Washington, DC and a presence in South Asia. We partner with organizations and communities around the world.


Accountability Counsel partners with local, regional and international organizations in all of our work.  We maintain formal memberships in the following networks:

We partner closely with pro bono lawyers at law firms, law school clinical programs and students law fellows and interns.  For information about our particular partnerships in our case work or policy advocacy, please visit those pages of our website.

Good Ally

We at Accountability Counsel are committed to working in an interdisciplinary and intersectional movement for justice. This means collaborating with people in the environmental, human rights, labor, and development fields, as we’ve always done. But under the new Trump administration, this also means standing up with immigrant rights activists, criminal justice advocates, LGBTQI activists and others who work on issues that may not leave the boundaries of the United States. United we stand, divided we fall.

As part of this commitment, we have initiated a Good Ally program, inspired by our participation in a January 2017 conference in San Francisco, where 1,200 lawyers gathered to strategize how – tactically – we can be good allies to communities threatened as a result of Trump administration policies. Accountability Counsel will encourage those on our staff who are lawyers in the U.S. with active bar membership to devote a portion of our dockets to protecting the rights of these communities, and the environment, here in the U.S. This is in line with our mission to amplify “the voices of communities around the world to protect their human rights and environment.”