UN Human Rights Committee comments on accountability of Canadian firms for abuses overseas
In July 2015 the Human Rights Committee considered the sixth periodic report of Canada on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Committee members questioned Canada on the accountability of Canadian companies for human rights abuses in their global operations.
(See below for news coverage)
From the OHCHR's summary of the proceedings:
Questions from Experts
…Another Expert raised the issue of corporate social responsibility. Two-thirds of the world’s mining companies were headquartered in Canada. While Canadian companies were expected to endorse Canadian values in their activities abroad, how were those values implemented in practical terms? Was there an effective mechanism to monitor the conduct of Canadian oil and gas companies abroad? Was the Government considering setting up a legal framework for holding companies accountable for possible human rights abuses?
Responses by the delegation
The delegation said that there were 800 Canadian companies operating in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Their projects provided significant economic benefits in jobs, infrastructure and taxes; communities and countries wanted such projects. The Government’s policy was to catch potential problems early; in that process Canada was heavily influenced by the United Nations Principles on Business and Human Rights. Canadian companies which declined governmental mechanisms would lose the Government’s support. Canada ensured the application of the Covenant for individuals on Canadian territory; otherwise, the question of extra-territoriality would be raised.
Follow-up questions by experts
If the Canadian Government was providing support to Canadian corporations, then they should also fall under Canadian jurisdiction, an Expert noted. Were there any policy programmes to promote Canadian companies operating outside of the country?
Responses by the delegation
The jurisdictional sovereignty of the State was primarily territorial, in the view of the Government. Individuals affected by the operation of Canadian companies abroad were thus not necessarily under Canadian jurisdiction. In 10 cases, the Canadian Government had offered good services to help facilitate dialogue between corporations and affected parties.
Fabian Omar Salvioli, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the debate on the application of the Covenant had been interesting. The State party was encouraged to continue, and even expand, the practice of promoting concluding observations of the treaty bodies. The final arbiter for interpreting the Covenant was the Committee and not individual States. Activities of mining companies could affect many rights of local populations…