Header graphic for print
Focus on Regulation

Canada steps up human rights oversight of companies operating abroad

Last week, Canada announced the creation of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), an independent officer who will be tasked with investigating allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporations operating abroad.

The CORE’s predecessor, the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, required the permission of a company to investigate a complaint and came under fire from NGOs for being ineffective.  Indeed, none of the six complaints it received since the role’s inception in 2009 were investigated or otherwise resolved.  The CORE will have the power to initiate investigations, and, if warranted, recommend remedies and monitor their implementation.  The CORE may also assist the resolution of disputes or conflicts between impacted communities and Canadian companies.

Although the CORE will not have the power to impose sanctions or penalties, its investigations and any findings or recommendations, will be made public. In his announcement on 17 January, the Canadian Minister for International Trade, Francois-Philippe Champagne, added that the government would also consider withdrawing trade advocacy support (or funding or political risk insurance from Export and Development Canada) if the CORE recommends it.

This is an unprecedented step, and one that will be of particular interest to the world’s mining industry – 60% of which is based in Canada. The initiative has already been welcomed by several Canadian mining companies.  Although the creation of the CORE was supported by advocates for mining-affected people, and the CORE will initially focus on the mining, oil and gas and textile industries, its mandate is expected to expand (within a year) to all other sectors in which Canadian companies operate abroad.

The CORE will report to Parliament, but will be independent from the Canadian government – in fact, its recommendations may include policy and legislative recommendations to the government itself.  A multi-stakeholder advisory body, including representatives of civil society and industry, has also been set up to advise the CORE and the government on the effective development and implementation of laws, policies and practices to encourage socially responsible conduct by Canadian companies operating abroad.

We will have to wait to see how effective the CORE is.  It is certainly to be hoped that the broad-ranging support for the creation of the CORE translates into constructive cooperation between government, business and nongovernmental organisations to achieve greater respect for human rights.