Canada creates independent Ombudsperson & multi-stakeholder advisory body to strengthen responsible business conduct abroad
In January 2018, Canada's Minister of International Trade 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.
On 8 April 2019, Canada's Minister of International Trade Diversification announced the appointment of Sheri Meyerhoffer as the Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson is mandated to review allegations of human rights abuses arising from the operations of Canadian companies abroad, initially focusing on the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors and then expanding to other sectors during the first year. Recommendations made by the Ombudsperson will be reported publicly and companies that do not cooperate could face trade measures, including the withdrawal of trade advocacy services and future Export Development Canada support.
Numerous Canadian human rights groups have expressed serious concern that the new Ombudsperson does not have the powers she needs to hold companies accountable, including sufficient independence from the government and the power to compel companies to co-operate with her investigations and recommendations. They are calling on the Canadian government to implement its original commitment to create an independent ombudsperson with investigatory capacity.
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Author: Whitney Eulich & Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor
"When mining companies work abroad, should justice follow them home?" 9 April 2019
Canadian mining firms account for 40 percent of large mining operations in Latin America, and there have long been accusations of abuse at their operations on the ground... A decade ago, Canadian courts were reluctant to try these cases domestically, says Ian Binnie, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice... “I think that the judges are becoming more sensitive to the fact that if they refuse jurisdiction in Canada, assuming the head office is here, that these people won’t have any redress and will be left without a remedy..."
... Proceedings against three Canadian companies have been breaking new legal ground... Hudbay Minerals faces three distinct cases... Another case alleges that security personnel at Tahoe Resources, in... Guatemala, opened fire on demonstrations in 2013. The British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled that the case could proceed in Canada, and it is now before the trial court there... A third case involves Nevsun Resources Ltd., which has been sued for alleged complicity in a government subcontractor’s use of forced labor at a mine in Eritrea, worked by conscripts in the repressive country’s national service system. The Supreme Court of Canada is weighing whether Canadian courts should recognize civil claims based on breaches of customary international law, and whether the case can proceed...The Canadian government has responded to pressure for better business conduct abroad by creating a new ombudsman position last January... Many are concerned that the office does not have a sufficient mandate to investigate abuses. “They want what they call joint investigation, so the company has to agree to the investigations,” says Professor Imai, from York University, of mining companies.
- Related stories: Canada creates independent Ombudsperson & multi-stakeholder advisory body to strengthen responsible business conduct abroad Canada Supreme Court hearing on jurisdiction in case against Nevsun over allegations of forced labour at mine in Eritrea Hudbay Minerals lawsuits (re Guatemala) Nevsun lawsuit (re Bisha mine, Eritrea) Tahoe Resources lawsuit (re Guatemala) Show moreShow less
Author: Gabriel Friedman, Financial Post
Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr named Sheri Meyerhoffer, a Calgary lawyer with ties to the energy industry, to act as the country’s first Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise... Carr said lawyers still need to study whether the office will be able to force companies to turn over documents or compel witnesses to testify... Human rights advocates said it would be impossible to effectively investigate corporate misconduct allegations without such powers, and accused the Liberal government of backing off of earlier commitments to provide such powers.
... [Catherine] Coumans [of MiningWatch Canada]... noted that Global Affairs Canada has posted a frequently asked questions section about the ombudsperson office on its website. In one question and answer, the government said it was committed to providing the office with such powers. But by Monday, that language had been removed. “It’s pretty clear what happened if you look at the lobby registry,” she said. “They’ve been lobbied to death.”... Ben Chalmers, acting president of MAC [Mining Association of Canada], said that his organization does not support the investigative powers that the Coumans and other human rights advocates want, and instead believes the ombudsman should help bring dispute resolution.
... Michael Jones, director of communications for the office of the Minister of International Trade Diversification, said... the international trade diversification minister remains committed to providing the ombudsperson’s office with such investigative powers, pending the outcome of an external legal review to be launched in the next few days. “We’re saying give us another few weeks, we’re hoping to have this resolved by early June,” said Jones.
Author: Canadian Labour Congress
Canada’s unions are disappointed that the long-awaited appointment of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) has not been accompanied by the promised power to investigate abuses and redress the harm caused by Canadian companies operating abroad... “Today’s announcement naming an ombudsperson is a welcome step, however this post must hold investigatory powers in order to help ensure that Canadian corporations are compelled to respect their human rights obligations abroad,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff... “The commissioned legal review to determine the options to provide the advisor with investigatory powers must not be delayed... Without investigatory capacity it is a powerless advisory post. We expect the required powers be assigned before the end of this electoral mandate.”
Author: Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability
The Government of Canada failed today to appoint an independent Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) with real powers to investigate abuses and redress the harm caused by Canadian companies operating abroad... Fifteen months ago, the government announced that it would create an independent office with the power to investigate. Instead, it unveiled a powerless advisory post, little different from what has already existed for years... An ombudsperson operates at arms-length from government and has the power to order those under investigation to produce documents and testimony under oath. The advisory position created today does neither.
“Individuals and communities harmed by Canadian mining companies still have no one to turn to for help,” said Emily Dwyer of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability. “An ombudsperson in name only is not an ombudsperson. It is simply more of the same approach that has already been proven empty and ineffective... The government announced that it has commissioned a review of the options of providing the advisor with investigatory powers. The advisory role announced today has no real powers and will not operate at arm’s length from government-free from any political or corporate interference... The government must take decisive action to stop corporate abuse. That was the promise made in January 2018. That is the promise that must be kept.”
Canadian govt. appoints Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise; human rights groups express disappointment that scope of powers remains unclear
Author: The Canadian Press, CBC
"New corporate-ethics ombud named but powers remain unclear," 8 April 2019
The federal government's long-awaited announcement... of a watchdog to enforce responsible conduct by Canadian companies operating abroad was greeted with disappointment by human-rights advocates... International Trade Minister Jim Carr says it will take almost two more months to finalize the powers of the new "Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise." At issue is whether Sheri Meyerhoffer, a lawyer with a long record in business and international development, can compel reluctant companies to co-operate with her investigations and recommendations. Carr said he wants independent legal advice on how best to give Meyerhoffer the power to make companies disclose documents and answer questions.
... Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty international Canada, welcomed Meyerhoffer's appointment but said it's disappointing the government still hasn't defined Meyerhoffer's powers some 15 months after announcing it was creating the position... The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability said the government failed Monday to appoint an ombudsperson with real powers. "Fifteen months into this process, news of a review is outrageous. We don't need more studies. We need action," said Emily Dwyer of the network. [refers to SNC-Lavalin]
- Related stories: Canada creates independent Ombudsperson & multi-stakeholder advisory body to strengthen responsible business conduct abroad
- Related companies: SNC-Lavalin
Author: United Church of Canada
The United Church of Canada is deeply disappointed by this news as the government has failed to create an independent office equipped with real powers to investigate abuses and redress the harm caused by Canadian companies operating abroad... For over 10 years, members across the church have joined more than 500,000 Canadians who have asked successive Canadian governments to create an effective, credible ombudsperson. They do this because they know that for global partners of the United Church, mining justice is a matter of faith as well as life and death. United Church partners in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have shared countless stories of lives lost and endangered because they have spoken out against the human rights abuses of some Canadian mining companies.
The United Church looks forward to the immediate implementation of the government’s original commitment to create an independent, effective, and credible ombudsperson. Today’s announcement falls short of that promise. The creation of a powerless advisory post leaves communities and individuals negatively impacted by Canadian mining companies with little hope of obtaining justice.
Development and Peace – Caritas Canada calls for new ombudsperson to have power to act independently & compel testimony
Author: Development and Peace – Caritas Canada
"Canadian government reneges on promise to create independent corporate human rights watchdog," 8 April 2019
Canada needs an ombudsperson to help prevent Canadian complicity in corporate abuse and help ensure Canadian mining and garment supply chains respect human rights. “The new ombudsperson, Sheri Meyerhoffer, will lack the power to act independently as the budget of her office will be directly provided by the Minister of Trade Diversification and will be accountable to the minister,"... says Elana Wright, Advocacy Officer for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada.
"It is imperative that the government puts people before profits and at the end of the five-week consultation period, that the new ombudsperson has the tools to perform independent investigations,” adds Ms. Wright. Development and Peace has been campaigning for an independent ombudsperson for the last ten years on behalf of communities in the Global South suffering from human rights abuses by Canadian mining companies and its members have collected over half million signatures in support of this mechanism for strengthening corporate social responsibility.
Author: John G. Ruggie
"Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise," 8 April 2019
On April 8, the Government of Canada established the office of Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise... Once the full legal powers of the Ombudsperson are in effect, Canada will have set the bar for other major home countries of multinational enterprises... The Ombudsperson serves not only a preventative role but is also tasked with mediating disputes between Canadian companies and affected communities abroad. If a company does not collaborate in good faith, the Ombudsperson can recommend withdrawal of financial support such as export credits from the company, or to deny it enhanced trade advocacy support. The Ombudsperson is also expected to obtain the authority to compel documentation and witnesses.
... The new ombudsperson gives people and communities affected by company-related human rights harm a direct interlocutor within the Canadian government, thereby providing a third-party forum to help resolve differences and provide remedy. It also gives businesses greater certainty as to its expected conduct when operating overseas... The Ombudsperson... is supported by a multi-stakeholder Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct, announced last year. Its membership is drawn from industry, workers organizations, civil society and academia, and it advises the Government on the effective implementation and further development of laws, policies and practices in this space. (Full disclosure: I serve as the Advisory Body’s Honorary Chair.)
Author: Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade Diversification, today announced the appointment of Sheri Meyerhoffer as Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), underscoring Canada’s continued commitment to advancing responsible business conduct abroad. The position is the first of its kind in the world. Ms. Meyerhoffer is mandated to review allegations of human rights abuses arising from the operations of Canadian companies abroad. Recommendations made by the Ombudsperson will be reported publicly, and companies that do not cooperate could face trade measures, including the withdrawal of trade advocacy services and future Export Development Canada support. While serving in this role, the new Ombudsperson will focus on the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors and is expected to expand to other sectors in the first year of operation.
... The Ombudsperson will be guided by internationally respected norms, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The roles of the new ombudsperson and the existing Canadian National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are complementary. The Ombudsperson may refer cases to the NCP, where appropriate, and where parties are in agreement.
Author: United Steelworkers
The United Steelworkers (USW) reacted angrily to today’s announcement by International Trade Diversification Minister Carr that a powerless special advisor has been appointed... “It has been evident for years that an independent, effective human rights ombudsperson is desperately needed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating overseas. Unfortunately, today’s announcement by the Liberal Government failed to act on this need, betraying the Liberal promise made in the last federal election, and reneging on their announcement of January 2018,” said Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada.
... “The government has had 4 years to make good on their campaign promise. A year ago, it appeared that they were going to do so. With today’s announcement by Minister Carr of the appointment of a special advisor, without the powers of an effective ombudsperson, this government has again disappointed thousands of Canadians who were expecting serious action on human rights,” said Neumann... "We can’t help but wonder if today’s announcement is an example of back-room pressure by well connected corporate lobbyists."... The United Steelworkers are calling on this government to immediately appoint a human rights ombudsperson under the Inquires Act, with the power to compel evidence from Canadians and Canadian companies.