moved that Bill C-584, An Act respecting the Corporate Social Responsibility Inherent in the Activities of Canadian Extractive Corporations in Developing Countries, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased today to begin the first hour of the second reading of my bill, Bill C-584, An Act respecting the Corporate Social Responsibility Inherent in the Activities of Canadian Extractive Corporations in Developing Countries.
Today, we have a unique opportunity to take on our responsibilities as individuals, and also as a country. Canada is in a unique position, because approximately 75% of international extractive corporations are incorporated here, under Canadian legislation. Our responsibility is that much greater since we have to ensure that those corporations respect international human rights and meet environmental standards outside Canada.
We are not talking about the Smurfs here, but about something very real. We are talking about people whose rights are being violated, people who are displaced without their consent, without consultation, and people who are watching their environment being destroyed.
The companies themselves have understood two important things. First, they have a social responsibility to the communities, through the activities engage in. In 2007, representatives of the major mining companies signed the recommendations of the national round tables on corporate social responsibility and the Canadian extractive industry. One of those recommendations was the creation of a corporate social responsibility ombudsman office. The Executive Director of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the Senior Manager of Corporate Responsibility and Government Affairs at Talisman Energy, and the current President-CEO of The Mining Association of Canada all participated and all signed the recommendations.
The second factor that affects the extractive companies is a matter of image and credibility, as we know. The companies understand that in the digital age, when information is increasingly easily accessible to people, who are increasingly aware of social causes, it is worthwhile for the companies to demonstrate transparency. Moreover, more and more private investors and investment funds are looking at a company’s reputation before becoming shareholders or investing in it.
Unfortunately, the Canadian corporate social responsibility strategy does not go far enough to guarantee that Canadian companies that operate in developing countries adhere to human rights and environmental norms and laws.
In 2009, the Conservative government created the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor in response to the report of the national round table on the subject, but did not give it any real power. The counsellor has neither the authority to investigate complaints nor the legal authority to ensure that the parties involved participate in the arbitration process in good faith. Its record is a fiasco. None of the six cases submitted were resolved in mediation and in three of those cases, the mining companies accused of violating human rights refused to participate in mediation. All of the cases are therefore closed, and the first counsellor appointed, Marketa Evans, resigned in October 2013, a year before the end of her term. The counsellor position has remained vacant since her resignation.
The industry unquestionably needs to rethink the way it handles its relations with governments and communities outside Canada. To do that, it needs clear guidelines and government help. It is time to look reality in the face. Voluntary measures do not work and corporate goodwill is not enough.
In a 2008 UN General Assembly report, John Ruggie argued that the legislative framework governing the activities of corporations in the natural resources sector is outmoded. He also found that the worst cases of human rights violations have taken place in low-income countries, countries that had recently experienced or were still experiencing conflict, and countries where the rule of law was weak and corruption levels high.
This frame of reference sets out three broad obligations that fall to states and corporations. States have an obligation to protect populations, primarily through legislative, administrative and judicial means, when corporations commit human rights abuses. Corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights by acting with due diligence and being aware of the adverse consequences that their activities and economic relations can have for human rights.
Finally, they have an obligation to ensure access to effective recourse through both legal and non-legal means.
It is only right that they be accountable for their actions abroad. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on developing mandatory, effective mechanisms, the Conservative government continues to act meekly and timidly, and to promote voluntary initiatives.
Bill C-584 would establish an ombudsman with a clear mandate, a specific framework and real powers. We need an independent ombudsman in charge of enforcing standards and laws in respect of corporate social responsibility. The ombudsman would be mandated to investigate complaints on the actions of Canadian companies abroad, publish the findings of his investigations, and make recommendations to the Government of Canada regarding legislative amendments and the sanctions that should be imposed on companies at fault.
It is our belief that Canada must promote values of respect, social justice, environmental protection and respect for human rights abroad. Practices not permitted in Canada should not be permitted abroad either. Holding extractive companies to account is simply a question of justice. By taking this action, we will be giving a voice to those who do not have one. Together, we will give a voice to justice by creating the position of ombudsman.
I would like to point out that, today, I am the voice of over 500,000 people who have been fighting since 2006 from within Development and Peace for the establishment of an independent ombudsman with the power to hear complaints and take action. I would also like to recognize the work of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, or CNCA, a large network comprised of environmental and human rights NGOs, faith-based organizations, labour unions, and research and solidarity groups across Canada, which have been calling for the creation of the position of ombudsman for many years.
I believe that there is a clear message being sent when both NGOs and companies sign off on a recommendation. As legislators, we have a duty to listen to society.
Last weekend, the Permanent People’s Tribunal, or PPT, was in session for two days. The tribunal was comprised of a jury of eight international experts who were called upon to assess the impact of the mining activities of Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, Tahoe Resources, Blackfire Exploration and Excellon Resources in Latin America. After having heard from numerous witnesses and experts, the tribunal reach the conclusion that these mining companies are responsible for a number of human rights violations, and that the Canadian government is, in part, responsible for failing to prevent and, even, facilitating these violations.
When the verdict was read on Sunday afternoon, Mireille Fanon-Mendès-France, one of the eight members of the jury, lamented the fact that “Canadian mining companies often act as new colonizers” and that they “arrive in the country, take possession of the lands and violate the peoples’ right to self-determination”.
This French expert, who works on the UN Human Rights Council, mainly denounced the acts of discrimination against indigenous peoples and neighbouring communities resulting from the activities of Canadian mining companies.
While the tribunal may not have any legal authority, it definitely has moral authority. Now it is up to us to act and to pass Bill C-584 to ensure that no human rights violations by Canadian businesses are tolerated outside Canada. We cannot and must not close our eyes to the protection of human rights. We must ensure that natural resources in developing countries are developed in a responsible manner.
The government is part of the solution to ensure that the international actions of these extractive companies are consistent with the standards and statutes regarding compliance with the social responsibilities of Canadian and international businesses. Canada’s reputation has too often been tarnished because a mining project caused environmental degradation, rising social tensions and even violence.
In February 2011, for example, the NGO Human Rights Watch reported that security forces working for the Canadian corporation Barrick, one of the largest gold producers in the world, were guilty of rape at the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea. In May, five people were killed in violent riots at the site of Barrick's North Mara mine in Tanzania. In the meantime, the Calgary oil company Talisman Energy continued its exploration activities in the Amazon jungles in Peru despite the opposition of the region’s indigenous Achuar people.
And yet Talisman is still perceived as a champion of the social responsibility of companies in the industry as a result of its public support for the concept of the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples. What is wrong with this picture?
If we are not yet convinced of the urgent need to act, let us consider the fourteenth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development:
Over the past several years, the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development has heard evidence related to the activities of Canadian mining and other resources companies in developing countries, including Colombia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most recently, it has held hearings on the activities of the Canadian mining company TVI Pacific Inc. in the Philippines, as well as on the broader issue of corporate social responsibility with respect to the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries. These hearings have underlined the fact that mining activities in some developing countries have had adverse effects on local communities, especially where regulations governing the mining sector and its impact on the economic and social wellbeing of employees and local residents, as well as on the environment, are weak or non-existent, or where they are not enforced. [The Subcommittee is] concerned that Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of the Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and of indigenous peoples.
I hope this issue goes beyond partisanship, and that we will all agree that it is high time to take action against the reprehensible activities of certain Canadian mining companies abroad.
Bill C-584 is a path for justice and one more pillar to support human rights abroad. I hope to have the government's support to try to give a voice to those who, sadly, do not have one.