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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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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