Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Scarborough—Guildwood for introducing this legislation and for his general concern for the citizens in developing countries.
I thank the member while I note, and I am sure with his agreement, that corporate accountability for Canadian resource extraction companies operating abroad is long overdue. We know extractive industries are often able to take advantage of political cultures in developing countries that do not accept or respect our domestic principles of democratic accountability and transparency. Centralized decision-making at the executive level that can offer extraction rights in exchange for capital in many developing companies can greatly infringe upon human rights and environmental sustainability of localized populations.
Canadian companies, like those from other modern industrialized states, have at times taken advantage of political circumstances in their quest for new sources of revenue to the gross detriment of workers and local communities, which have and will suffer the devastating environmental consequences for generations.
I was sad to see that just this week a lawsuit was filed against a company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange for its alleged involvement in human rights abuses at a mining concession site in Ecuador.
I am sure all members, current and past, from the House will agree that legislation that enforces international rights standards and environmental best practices upon Canadian companies operating abroad is long overdue.
The member for Scarborough—Guildwood will know that New Democrats have long stood in the House in support of corporate accountability as a principle of international trade and economic activity among and between nations. He will also know that it was the former hon. member for Ottawa Centre who first sought to enforce this principle with Bill C-369 in the 38th Parliament.
Support from the New Democrat caucus on legislation that enforces ethical behaviour upon Canadian companies, including those operating abroad, has never been difficult to attain. As such and given that this bill merely seeks to encourage such behaviour rather than enforce it, I can only offer my qualified support for it at this stage.
The bill is imperfect legislation. It is too narrow in its scope and application and too weak in its enforcement. If the member is truly interested in ensuring that companies apply environmental best practices and the protection of international human rights standards abroad, he will promote or surely encourage three very important amendments to the bill.
First, the member should encourage an amendment to the bill that would see it apply to all corporations in Canada with operations abroad, and not just those receiving government assistance and that are operating in extractive industries, like mining and oil and gas. It is true that the very nature of extractive industries makes violations of these principles all too profitable and tempting for many, but violations are also likely to occur and be reported in manufacturing, agriculture and other labour-intensive and environmentally taxing industries. This would be a very important amendment.
Second, the member should encourage an amendment to the bill that would ensure the principles contained in it related to environmental best practices and international human rights standards would be enforced rather than simply encouraged. This could be achieved by adding a provision that amends the Criminal Code to punish the same undesirable behaviour abroad as it does at home. Such a provision was contained in Bill C-369 from the 38th Parliament, if members wish to explore this possibility.
Finally, the member should encourage an amendment to the bill that would create an ombudsman's office to help ensure the principles of it would be respected and to investigate any claims that may be brought against companies with respect to the provisions of the bill. An independent ombudsman would help ensure that our domestic and international politics would not interfere in the promotion and protection of environmental best practices and international human rights by Canadian companies operating abroad. It would also assist the minister, as well intentioned as Conservatives may be, so he or she would not be exclusively burdened with monitoring and enforcement of these measures.
It is important to note that this last amendment was called for in the Advisory Group Report in 2007, entitled “National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries”. I would like to thank all members of the advisory group and all participants of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility for their hard work. I encourage each and every member of the House to read the report and strongly consider its recommendations when deliberating on this legislation.
I also encourage the member for Scarborough—Guildwood to take a bold step by pushing for these three amendments, including the creation of an independent ombudsman, to be attached to this bill at the committee stage.
Parliament represents a rare chance for real change on a number of fronts, if only members could muster the political will and courage to stand in support of the principles they claim to respect and wish to uphold. The bill, for all its imperfections, is progress on the issue of corporate responsibility for Canadian companies operating abroad.
Given that the bill can be amended in committee, I offer my support to it at this stage and thank the member for tabling it.