Madam Speaker, Nicolas de Condorcet used to say that the truth belongs to those who seek it, not to those who claim to own it.
With that in mind, I welcome this motion, and I voted in favour of it when my Conservative colleague moved it in committee. For me, it is a step in the right direction, the beginning of something, a project. I am really glad the Conservatives have moved this motion. The last time I moved a motion to bring in a real due diligence policy seeking to pass it by unanimous consent, I heard a lot of howling from the opposition on my right. I use the word “right” in every sense of the word. I am glad the Conservatives finally woke up a bit, although it took a while.
I also moved a motion on mining companies. The Standing Committee on International Trade has completed its study on mining, but we have not yet adopted the report. We have not yet heard from the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development. When I moved my motion on the subject of mining, the Conservatives also opposed it, so I am pleased that they have come to their senses. It is better late than never, as they say.
I also want to thank the previous speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development. Recently, I was fortunate enough to go to Paris with him for the OECD summit, which focused on this particular issue. I am glad to see that the OECD and most countries are becoming aware of the problem. Unfortunately, this meeting turned into a bit of an exercise in one-upmanship. Everyone said they were taking this issue seriously and working hard in their communities to advance this cause. However, there is many a slip 'twixt cup and lip, as the expression goes.
This is a topic that resonates with me because I also tabled a petition in the House last spring, I believe, or early last summer, to bring in a meaningful due diligence policy. I have also co-sponsored bills. Bloc members never judge a bill by its cover. When a bill is good, we support it; when it is bad, we do not support it.
I have co-sponsored two NDP bills. The first is Bill C-262, which has yet to move past first reading. If we are serious about this issue, we need to get on it, we need to make this a priority. The second is Bill C-263, which seeks to establish an office of the commissioner in this matter because an office like that could act as an authority.
Let us take a step back in history. Once upon a time, there was colonization. We call many countries “developing” nations nowadays. They are southern nations, based on the old north-south divide. There used to be something called colonization. Colonial empires, or metropolises as they were called, wanted to get their hands on resources, so they went and took over other lands. They did not all go about it the same way. Some felt that the people on those lands, whom they considered inferior, needed to be civilized. Others took things even further: those people had to be exterminated, unfortunately.
For others still, colonization meant stripping these people of all power and reducing them to insignificance for as long as they did business with them. This was often the British colonization model. The people no longer had any political power, but the colonial powers would pretend that they did. They let them elect leaders with little power, local leaders from their own tribes. This gave them the illusion that they still had power over their lives, which was a complete lie. It was called indirect rule. Then decolonization happened, as we know.
Next came globalization. Starting in the 1980s, we were told that we needed to free up the multinationals and free up capital to ensure that it could be moved from one place to another, without borders, so that profits could be made, because all those profits would contribute to the common good. That was a very bad interpretation of the words of Adam Smith, who is credited with introducing the “invisible hand” theory. In reality, Adam Smith never came up with an invisible hand theory. The invisible hand is metaphor that he used three times to talk about different things. If we look at Adam Smith's work, we see that what he actually said is quite the opposite of what people took from his words in the 1980s and 1990s.
When the Berlin Wall fell, the Iron Curtain also fell. It imploded, collapsed. That led to the rule of unadulterated neo-liberalism. All of the supranational bodies were saying that the time for nations and sovereignties was over, that it was the end for the social safety net. The time for measures and policies was over. Now was the time for capital to be deployed, for it to move from one jurisdiction to another by any means and at any time. It needed to be freed up as much as possible so that anything could be done with it.
Obviously, today, that is no longer the case. We might say that globalization is in crisis, that we are returning to a multipolar world. It appears that there are several environmental and social consequences to these utopias. Among them, there is this idea of having a great global supply chain where every country can do its part. This also has consequences.
Quebec has fared well under free trade. It has been a beneficial experience. We certainly need to continue to diversify our trade partners, but not at all costs. We have seen the human consequences in terms of human rights, obviously, but also the use of forced labour. That is the point of today's motion on the importation of goods linked to the use of forced labour.
If we are going to address the problem, then we need to be serious. With what is referred to as dumping, a product can go through another country that is used as a flag of convenience. Then the product arrives here and we think it was made in places where forced labour is controlled and regulated, when in fact that is often not the case.
The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, the CNCA, has made a number of demands. I am going to read them, because I think they are quite comprehensive. According to the CNCA, there are five essential elements in effective due diligence legislation which many Canadian and Quebec civil society groups agree on, and they are the following: require companies to prevent all human rights violations throughout their global operations and supply chains; require companies to develop and implement human rights due diligence procedures, and report on them, as well as require them to consult rights holders; require meaningful consequences for companies that fail to take these obligations seriously and guarantee impacted communities access to effective remedy in Canadians civil courts; be consistent with the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights and apply this legislation to companies of any size, while possibly allowing small business in low-risk sectors to be exempt; and apply to all human rights, because all human rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
On June 22, 2022, I tabled a petition along those same lines:
some Canadian companies contribute to human rights abuses and environmental damage around the world;
people who protest these abuses and stand up for their rights are often harassed, attacked or killed. Indigenous peoples, women and marginalized groups are particularly at risk; and
Canada encourages companies to stop these harms from happening in their global operations and supply chains, but does not require them to.
We, the undersigned citizens and residents of Canada, call on the House of Commons to adopt legislation on due diligence for human and environmental rights that:
The rest of the petition contains more or less the same formal demands made by the CNCA which I just read. It also aligns with the motion I moved for unanimous consent, which, I would remind members, was rejected by the right in the House.
Let us now discuss the bill in question. I applaud the sponsor, who has attempted previously to bring forward legislation on this matter. There was Bill C‑243, which was withdrawn in favour of the very similar Bill S‑211.
We supported it and we will continue to support it, but it is just not enough, because if we ask ourselves whether the bill helps individuals who are affected obtain justice or redress, the answer is no. Does the bill seek to include communities and workers who are affected? No. Does the bill apply to businesses of all sizes in all sectors? No, it only applies to businesses with over 250 employees and “significant” revenue and assets.
Does the bill apply to all human rights? No, it only applies to forced labour and child labour. Those are hugely important issues, and this is a step forward, but it should go much further. Are businesses required to respect human rights? No, they are only required to report annually on whether they have taken steps to recognize and prevent the use of forced labour, but reporting is not accountability.
Does the bill require businesses to prevent harm? No, it only requires an annual report. Does the bill require businesses to take steps to identify, mitigate, prevent or report human rights violations and environmental damage in their supply chains, because the problem applies to the entire supply chain? No.
There are no compulsory due diligence standards for businesses. Do they face significant consequences if they cause harm or fail to implement due diligence standards? Again, the answer is no.
All the questions I just asked would be answered in the affirmative under the NDP Bill C-282, which I co-sponsored. This bill ticks all the boxes. I therefore encourage the government and the House to refer it to committee for study as soon as possible, because it provides a much better response to what is needed and to the urgency of the situation.
I would also like to talk about Canadian mining companies, which I suggested would be a good subject for study by the Standing Committee on International Trade. First, let me clarify one thing. It is a real stretch to call them “Canadian” mining companies, because they are just using Canada as a “flag of convenience”. Mining companies are often Canadian only on paper. They choose Canada because its lax laws make it ridiculously easy to incorporate here, to present themselves as Canadian companies and to benefit from speculative benefits offered through and by the Toronto Stock Exchange. Canada is just being used as a “flag of convenience”. It is basically a front.
I have seen this first-hand. The Bloc Québécois actually proposed a bill in 2009 that would have gotten to the heart of the issue, as it created an actual review commission that would have been politically independent and would have had the power to conduct its own investigations, without needing a complaint or a political directive. It would not simply have been a symbolic ombudsperson. This commission could have conducted its own investigations and publicly questioned Global Affairs Canada, or Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, as it was called at the time, if the department were even seen to support a mining company that was caught violating human rights.
I travelled to Chile and Colombia, and in Colombia, I saw a mining company that was originally Canadian fall into Chinese hands. Speaking of forced labour, we saw a bus full of prisoners arrive from the People's Republic of China. Once the local miners have been squeezed out, one of the arguments often used to gain acceptance for these projects in mining areas is that they will create jobs. However, bringing in prisoners from the People's Republic of China is not exactly creating local jobs. Furthermore, diplomats must not provide unequivocal support for the aggressive tactics used by Canadian mining companies abroad, as Canadian embassies have been known to do. Embassies are being ordered to provide support through diplomacy.
We also need to talk about money. It is important to talk about that, because Export Development Canada has investments in many problematic companies, including Baru Gold, which was mentioned several times. EDC continued to hand out loans to Teck Resources for its Quebrada Blanca mine in Chile, despite the political crisis and brutal repression going on in that country. In 2019 alone, EDC invested between $1 billion and $1.5 billion just in Chile's extractive sector.
Vale was involved in two recent tailings dam disasters in Brazil. At the company's Brumadinho mine, hundreds of people were killed in January 2019 when a tailings dam collapsed. It is also the co-owner of the mine near Mariana, where a similar disaster wiped out an entire village in 2015. Both mines had been built using the riskiest method regulators would allow. Vale's other activities include a railway along which residents are regularly struck by trains, and a mine that was ordered to shut down several times because of the impact it was having on indigenous tribes.
Vedanta Limited, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources, received between $100 million and $250 million in loans in 2017. In 2018, there was a massacre at a smelter plant in India run by a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources. Police opened fire on a crowd of thousands who were protesting the planned expansion of the Tuticorin plant. Thirteen people were killed and dozens of others were injured.
According to Emily Dwyer from the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, who testified at committee, some of the other mining companies that received funding from Export Development Canada and were mixed up in human rights violations include Teck Resources and Kinross.
The mining industry in Canada received $6.524 million in funding in 2022. This is a serious matter.
When we talk about accountability and the origin of goods, we need to be serious and take a closer look.
I will now wrap up my speech in order to debate this issue with the rest of the House. We need some genuinely serious policies on this, such as Bill C‑262 and Bill C‑263, which I co-sponsored, and the bill that the Bloc Québécois introduced in 2009 about a review commission for mining companies.
This needs to be taken seriously, because the ombudsperson is currently nothing but a complaints office and a web site. That is no way to deal with the serious, violent, brutal violations happening around the world.
In closing, I want to wish everyone a happy end to the “no new clothes challenge”. March was dubbed “no new clothes” month. That lines up nicely with the theme we are discussing today.