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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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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