What will convince Ottawa to rein in Canadian companies?

Author: Greg Regaignon & Emily Kaufman, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Published on: 21 July 2015

"What will convince Ottawa to rein in Canadian companies?", 21 July 2015

Canada faced intense scrutiny from the UN Human Rights Committee earlier this month. The Committee expressed concerns over Canada’s approach to impacts of Canadian companies operating abroad...In some sectors, Canada is dominant out of proportion to its size in the global economy.  According to the government, “over 50% of the world’s publically listed exploration and mining companies [are] headquartered in Canada” (2013 figures). In Mexico for example, a majority of mining projects with foreign investment include Canadian companies. These have a decidedly mixed record...Canadian companies’ importance is also visible in the largest global database of companies’ impacts on human rights...Canada’s companies have faced over 50% more allegations of abuse than companies based in G7 peer nations such as France, Germany and the United States...In the garment industry, too, Canadian companies have fallen short...In the tech industry, Canadian company Netsweeper reportedly provides software to the Pakistan Government for censorship of the internet, including limiting content from independent news sources and human rights organizations....Still, Canada’s reaction to the Human Rights Committee is surprising given some recent government actions. In late 2014 it announced guidance and a clear policy expectation that extractive companies would abide by the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and other norms...Some Canadian companies may be ahead of the government: Seven of the 10 largest Canadian mining companies have made commitments on human rights – better than the global rate of 53% of extractive industry companies with a human rights policy on BHRRC’s Company Action Platform...Amid these signs of progress, the government’s denial before the UN Human Rights Committee could signal a worrisome reversal. Disavowal of the responsibility to provide robust human rights protections will likely meet with a clear response from Canadian civil society to the government: it’s not working, and the time for action is now. 

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