Canada creates independent Ombudsperson & multi-stakeholder advisory body to strengthen responsible business conduct abroad

Canada's Minister of International Trade has announced two new responsible business initiatives for Canadian companies doing business and operating abroad. The first is the creation of an independent Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) and the second is a multi-stakeholder Advisory Body to advise the Government and the CORE on responsible business conduct abroad.

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6 February 2018

Mexican activists call for investigation of Canadian diplomats' alleged support of mining co accused of rights abuses

Author: Bill Curry, The Globe and Mail

"Mexican activists ask Ottawa to investigate alleged support of mining firm," 6 February 2018

A delegation of activists from Mexico – including the son of a community leader who was murdered after raising concerns with the Canadian embassy – are calling for an investigation into the actions of diplomats who allegedly supported a Canadian mining company accused of human-rights abuses... The call for an investigation comes on the heels of a major announcement by International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne that Canada will create a new watchdog position with a mandate to investigate human-rights complaints against Canadian companies operating in other countries... Advocates from Mexico expressed concern on Tuesday with the government's plan, noting that the new watchdog – officially known as the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise – will only investigate complaints after the fact. The advocates said Canada needs to set clearer rules to prevent embassies from supporting companies that are engaged in questionable activities. "Our concern with the new announcement of the ombudsperson is that it will fail to give communities and affected people access to justice," said Michel Mijangos, of the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People.

... MiningWatch Canada has been working with local human-rights advocates for several years, raising concerns over the relationship between Canadian diplomats in Mexico and Blackfire Exploration. The Calgary-based junior-mining company operated a barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas from 2007-09, when it was shut down shortly after a local opponent of the mine, Mariano Abarca, was murdered in a drive-by shooting...The company, which is no longer active, has long denied any involvement in Mr. Abarca's death. [In 2010, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Blackfire Exploration to respond to this allegation; the response is available here.]

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26 January 2018

Commentary: The promise and limitations of the new Canadian Business and Human Rights Ombudsperson

Author: Mora Johnson

... A key unanswered question in the Government’s announcement is how an Ombudsperson can be created without statutory powers, duties and safeguards... It is anticipated that a properly constituted Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise would offer a real public service in resolving human rights claims.  Three promising benefits [include that]... an Ombudsperson will be able to help parties expeditiously resolve claims... [and] can help bring fairness and credibility to a mutually-agreed-upon settlement... Second, when companies are accused of harms they have not committed or subject to exaggerated claims, it can be very difficult for them to effectively put the allegations to rest.  After an adequate fact-finding process, the Ombudsperson could issue a credible finding that a claim is unfounded... Third, the Ombudsperson can review and address systemic issues.  Where a number of situations are identified with similar or identical concerns, the Ombudsperson can review and issue broader recommendations with the aim of improving the performance of all Canadian companies.  

... Certain types of claims may be too multilayered and complex for an Ombudsperson process located in a different jurisdiction.  In the extractive sector context, there are cases where the denial of human rights goes back generations and the primary abusers are home state governments. There are examples of Indigenous groups, without formal recognition of land rights by their own governments, which have been slowly dispossessed of their ancestral property and other resources since colonial times. If the mining company is merely a recent player in a long drama of marginalization, a much broader process involving host states and local governments will be required to find resolution. 

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18 January 2018

Canadian miners welcome new federal business ethics ombudsman

Author: Henry Lazenby, Mining Weekly

...“It’s essential that our mines and businesses are operating in a way that is respectful of human rights. That does not only apply to mining, but to all businesses, and what we’ve advocated for this ombudsman to apply to our business,” Mining Association of Canada (MAC) VP for sustainable development Ben Chalmers told Mining Weekly Online...

Chalmers explains that the office will be another tool that the Canadian government now has at its disposal to enforce good business practice.

This also dovetails with the MAC’s efforts to promote its Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative in other jurisdictions. To date, mining associations in FinlandArgentinaBotswana and the Philippines have also adopted versions of the TSM principles and Chalmers says it is working with several more jurisdictions to sign on to the programme, which is built around ethical best business practices...

Canadian precious metals company Tahoe Resources in a separate statement welcomed the creation of CORE.

"We applaud the government's announcement today to appoint a human rights ombudsperson to oversee Canadian mining and other industries abroad. Independent oversight will strengthen best practices, ensure transparency within the mining industry and promote safe and responsible mining operations in Canada and abroad. Today's action is a positive step forward for the Canadian mining and extractive industry and we look forward to working with the new ombudsperson,” Tahoe president and CEO Ron Claytonsays in a statement...

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17 January 2018

Barrick comments on creation of Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

Author: Barrick Gold

At Barrick, we partner with host governments and communities to transform their natural resources into sustainable benefits and mutual prosperity. Relationships built on trust and respect are at the heart of our ability to operate successfully—relationships with host communities and governments, civil society, industry peers, our employees, and others.

Accountability and respect for human rights are central to our values as a Company, and are enshrined in robust policies and procedures that apply to all of our operations around the world. In addition, Canadian mining companies, including Barrick, are subject to a stringent framework of national and international standards and regulations that ensure strong accountability across the sector.

We support the Government of Canada’s announcement of an additional accountability mechanism for Canadian businesses operating overseas, focused on dialogue and conflict resolution. We look forward to engaging with the ombudsperson in a transparent and constructive manner, to assure Canadians that mining activities continue to generate economic and social benefits for host communities and governments, while respecting human rights.

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17 January 2018

Communities impacted by Canadian corporations overseas will be heard: Gov't creates human rights watchdog

Author: Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability

"Press release: At last, communities impacted by Canadian corporations overseas will be heard: Government creates human rights watchdog," 17 January 2018

The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) is greatly encouraged by the Minister of International Trade's announcement of the creation of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. The human rights ombudsperson will investigate complaints concerning the overseas operations of Canadian companies and will issue public findings on allegations of harm. The office will make recommendations for redress; regarding corporate eligibility for government services; and with respect to policy and law reform.

... “Our primary goal in working for the creation of this office has been to ensure access to remedy for the mining-affected people,” said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “In nearly 20 years we have seen the level of human rights abuses and mining-related conflict increase globally as companies push deeper into remote areas and onto the lands of Indigenous peoples.”... “Sexual violence against women – especially Indigenous women – has been associated with Canadian commercial projects overseas,” said Jean Symes of Inter Pares.

... “Canada’s new corporate accountability watchdog must be transparent and free from political interference when seeking information on company activities that impact local communities,” said Ian Thomson, Extractive Industries Policy Specialist of Oxfam Canada... “Canadians have been asking for the creation of an ombudsperson since 2006,” said Serge Langlois, Executive Director of Development and Peace-Caritas Canada. “Today’s announcement responds to a decade of actions by over 500,000 Canadians calling on the government to create an ombudsperson.”

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17 January 2018

Long-fought-for Ombudsperson announced to investigate international complaints against Canadian mining companies

Author: MiningWatch Canada

... The ombudsperson’s recommendations could include the withdrawal of Canadian government political support (such as Trade Councillor support) and financial support (such as funding or political risk insurance from Export Development Canada), as well as advice to the Government of Canada on policy and legislative changes needed to prevent mining-related harms before they occur...

MiningWatch Canada started the lengthy process that led to this announcement in 2005, and together with other members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, and – with the support of tens and hundreds of thousands of Canadians over the years – has continuously fought for a such an oversight body, as well as for legal accountability and respect for communities’ Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). [MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Catherine] Coumans promised, “We will continue to press the government to ensure that the Ombuds office is independent and effective, and has adequate resources to do its job, but we will also continue to push for legal accountability, FPIC, and other important elements of corporate accountability like effective anti-corruption laws.”

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17 January 2018

The Government of Canada brings leadership to responsible business conduct abroad

Author: Global Affairs Canada

...The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade, today announced two new initiatives to strengthen Canada’s approach to responsible business conduct for Canadian companies doing business and operating abroad.

The first is the creation of an independent Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), the first of its kind in the world. The CORE will be mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporate activity abroad. The CORE will seek to assist wherever possible in collaboratively resolving disputes or conflicts between impacted communities and Canadian companies. It will be empowered to independently investigate, report, recommend remedy and monitor its implementation. The CORE’s scope will be multi-sectoral, initially focussing on the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors, with the expectation to expand within a year of the Ombudsperson taking office to other business sectors. The creation of the CORE sets a new global benchmark to ensure responsible business conduct globally.

The second is the creation of a multi-stakeholder Advisory Body to advise the Government and the CORE on responsible business conduct abroad...

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17 January 2018

The newest corporate watchdog: Canada announces an Ombudsperson for corporate accountability

Author: Amol Mehra & Heather Cohen, Int'l Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)

Canada's Minister of International Trade, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, announced the creation of an independent ombudsperson to investigate human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporations abroad. The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) will be authorized to investigate allegations of human rights abuses arising from Canadian corporate activity abroad initially in the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors, with the expectation to expand within a year to other industries... CORE is to be advised by a new multi-stakeholder Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct, which the Minister also announced today. It will be led by Professor John Ruggie and will include members from both industry and civil society groups. The Advisory Body will be responsible for developing a set of guiding principles to assist the CORE in its operations as well as advising the Canadian government more generally on responsible business conduct by Canadian companies operating abroad.

... Canadian corporations from both the extractive and apparel sectors have been linked to human rights abuses that extend from forced labor to community attacks to issues in their supply chains. Moreover, Canadian citizens have been calling on the government to implement an ombudsperson for more than ten years and in the previous federal election, all but one of Canada’s major political parties committed to creating the office... Canada is the first country in the world to create an ombudsperson for responsible business conduct abroad and its announcement today serves to put it on the map of jurisdictions evidencing a commitment to addressing corporate accountability... While the CORE certainly seems to be empowered to act for the protection of human rights, its effectiveness will be measured by the extent to which it employs the tools at its disposal, including revocation of trade support when sanctions are warranted. 

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17 January 2018

Trade Minister plans to confront CEOs over human-rights rules

Author: Bill Curry, The Globe and Mail (Canada)

...If the [CORE] watchdog is unable to obtain company records as part of an investigation, the government says it will be able to ask cabinet to approve an order in council compelling the company to hand over the files...The office will initially focus on the mining, oil and gas and garment sectors, with a plan to include other business sectors within a year…

…While the watchdog can only recommend sanctions, Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the government would face public pressure to follow through on such advice...He also said the simple fact the watchdog can issue public reports will provide an incentive for companies to co-operate, given the increased focus on ethical investing...

...Barrick Gold Corp., the biggest gold company in the world by production, said it, too, supports the government's initiative.

 "We look forward to engaging with the ombudsperson in a transparent and constructive manner," the company wrote in a news release. "Accountability and respect for human rights are central to our values as a company, and are enshrined in robust policies and procedures that apply to all of our operations around the world."

The…company has significant mining operations in countries such as Peru, the Dominican Republic and Argentina. It has faced allegations of human-rights abuses at some operations, including sexual violence at a mine in Papua New Guinea about seven years ago…


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16 January 2018

Canada: Govt. to announce new ombudsperson for “responsible enterprise”; role to cover extractive & other sectors

Author: Peter Mazereeuw, The Hill Times

“Champagne to announce new ombudsman for corporate responsibility Wednesday, after years-long campaign by human rights groups”, 16 Jan 2018

The federal government is planning to announce the creation of an ombudsperson for “responsible enterprise” on Wednesday, finally checking the box on a 2015 Liberal campaign promise, and satisfying a request from Canada’s mining industry that the ombudsman cover more than just the extractive sector… The government’s ombudsperson is also expected to take and investigate complaints related to the apparel industry, and possibly expand to other sectors in the future.

…Human rights advocates, including the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, have called for an ombudsperson’s office that is independent of the federal government, and Mr. Ruggie… served as the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for business and human rights…said he believed they will get their wish as well.

 …The new ombudsperson will likely have the authority to compel evidence, and possibly testimony, from Canadian companies involved in investigations…The new ombudsperson’s role from the “joint fact-finding” model requested by Canada’s mining industry, through which the ombudsperson would take a cooperative approach to resolving disputes between Canadian companies and people in other countries who claim to have been victimized by them. [Also refers to Joe Fresh, Loblaw]

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