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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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Article
8 April 2019

'Lobbied to death': Liberals face backlash over corporate responsibility ombudsman

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.

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Article
8 April 2019

Canada’s unions disappointed that new Ombudsperson has been appointed without promised powers

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.”

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Article
8 April 2019

Canadian Government reneges on promise to create independent corporate human rights watchdog

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.”

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Article
8 April 2019

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]

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Article
8 April 2019

Canadian Govt. breaks promise to create effective Ombudsperson

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.

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Article
8 April 2019

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.

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Article
8 April 2019

John Ruggie welcomes appointment of Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

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.)

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Article
8 April 2019

Minister Carr announces appointment of first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

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.

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Article
8 April 2019

The United Steelworkers dismisses govt. announcement and renews calls for independent Ombudsperson

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.

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Article
24 January 2019

Top court weighs precedent-setting case of human rights breaches at Canadian mine in Eritrea

Author: Kathleen Harris, CBC News

The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments today in what could be a precedent-setting case for Canadian companies that do business abroad... B.C.-based mining company Nevsun Resources Ltd. is being sued for its alleged complicity in the forced labour, slavery and torture of workers at the Bisha gold, zinc and copper mine in Eritrea... Nevsun lawyer Mark Andrews said today it is "beyond debate" that the fundamental complaint is about the conduct of Eritrea, and warned of the dangers of having a Canadian court pass judgment on the acts of a foreign state.

... Last year, the Liberal government announced new initiatives to strengthen Canada's approach to responsible business conduct for Canadian companies operating abroad, including a new office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. A year later, the position remains vacant... NDP MP Peter Julian has proposed a private member's bill that would give the Federal Court authority to hear civil cases involving alleged human rights abuses involving Canadian companies operating abroad.

... Paul Champ, a lawyer for Amnesty International Canada... said the case points to a "new problem" that has emerged in the last 20 years about corporate responsibility amid increased globalization. "Broadening activities by corporations have not been addressed thus far, and it's our submission that this is how the common law must evolve to address that problem," he said.

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