Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa Centre for moving this motion and for sharing his time with me.
In my opinion, this motion is long overdue. It is very important for me to speak to this issue because I am keenly aware that in my riding of Victoria, the business community has been exercising leadership on this front by forming what has been called a values based business network through which they promote a triple bottom line approach in business. The business community develops business cases for sustainability. It works, learns and promotes ethical business practices. It collaborates on marketing and branding. It develops projects that strengthen the micro-economy.
This is an issue that is particularly important to me. I have seen how it can work. It is beneficial not just for the bottom line, but in promoting social justice.
My colleagues in the NDP caucus and I have been calling for such measures for a long time. My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has presented Bill C-492 which would begin to address the issue of basic human rights and environmental abuses by Canadian corporations abroad. This is a continuing problem that received extensive national attention in 2007 with the release of the advisory report from the National Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility. The report's recommendations to enhance Canada's social responsibility standards were inevitable, given the disturbing accounts by round table participants on human rights abuses, allegedly perpetrated by Canadian companies while operating overseas. A year and a half later, the federal government has yet to adopt these recommendations designed to prevent such injustices. It is the responsibility of the government to give leadership and to ensure that the standards set out in the report's recommendations are met.
The basis of this report offers a pragmatic and comprehensive series of recommendations for the Government of Canada to implement toward developing the world's most progressive framework of corporate social responsibility. The report recommends standards based on existing international best practices, voluntary frameworks topped up with additional made in Canada standards that put as their focus assurances that Canadian extractive corporate practices enhance and protect human rights and the environment. This is not just good for social justice, but it is good for the bottom line as corporate social responsibility practices are increasingly being recognized.
Recently, Niall FitzGerald, former CEO of Unilever said:
Corporate social responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is nice to do or because people are forcing us to do it...but because it is good for our business.
Companies are beginning to realize that a business has a responsibility beyond its basic responsibility to its shareholders, a responsibility to a broader constituency that includes key stakeholders, customers, employees, and in the case of corporations functioning abroad, to the people, the foreign nationals in that country and the aboriginal people.
There seems to be an irony between the government's inaction on this file and its historic apology to the aboriginal people of Canada yesterday. The government continues to allow for exploitation of aboriginal people in other countries through unsustainable and harmful corporate business practices, as has happened in Suriname or Tanzania where the labour practices of Barrick Gold, a Canadian company, caused conflict.
We have begun to see the cracks form in bottom line capitalism with the demise of huge multinational corporations such as Enron and WorldCom and with the trials of Conrad Black or Ezra Levant. It has opened our eyes to the need for corporate social responsibility standards.
As the global food crisis increases, these discussions are broadening and suggest the need for a paradigm shift. Business must find new ways to contribute to society. The emphasis on free trade must give way to the promotion of fair trade principles. Doing business must no longer mean exploitation of people or devastation of the habitat.
The implementation of measures to ensure corporate social responsibility is anything but a business as usual approach. Rather, a corporate social responsibility is effectively part of what I would call a new social contract between business and society. Government must stand up, take note and look at these recommendations that were made through a consensus report. The government must begin to consider these more seriously and implement them.
Throughout Canada successful businesses have taken on the challenge toward corporate social responsibility. One such company in Canada at the forefront of this new way of doing business is Mountain Equipment Co-op. Former CEO Peter Robinson, one of the new thought leaders, has remarked, “Ethics is the new competitive environment”. Companies like MEC believe that corporate social responsibility is not only good for business, but it also offers a net competitive advantage for their businesses. In my own city, as I said, the values based network is comprised of hundreds of small businesses. They are exercising leadership by recognizing a triple bottom line approach to doing business.
The Conservative government must follow the lead of businesses across the country. Canada's brand as a democratic country that respects human rights depends on it. We must make corporate social responsibility a part of Canada's policy.
Today Canada can take action to ensure that we do not continue to exploit aboriginal people in other countries through its corporations. The recommendations that were proposed in the report stress that corporations operating abroad have a responsibility not only to follow the rules of the countries where they are operating, which in many cases especially in some developing countries are not applied, but they should follow the standards of corporate social responsibilities and the laws as they are in Canada.
This is what this report attempts to do. I do not know if the business community in Canada is leading. This is what Canadians expect. Yesterday the Conservative government itself expressed regret and apologized to first nations people for the exploitation that has occurred over the years. Now it has the opportunity to prevent that kind of exploitation in other countries by taking action on this report.