Canada’s CSR Strategy for Extractives 2.0 – Government Acknowledges Power to Act, Declines to Do So

(Ottawa) Today the Government of Canada released its revised Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for extractive companies operating overseas, finally recognising its power to withdraw the substantial support that it provides such companies in order to make them accountable, but declining to apply that power in any meaningful way.

Coming five years after the 2009 launch of the Government’s initial CSR strategy, the updated policy leans heavily on a revised role for the CSR Counsellor, a failed institution under the original plan, and on enhanced involvement of Canada’s missions abroad.

While a more substantive review of the updated strategy will depend on specifics that have yet to be released, for example regarding the CSR Counsellor’s mandate, a few things jump out.

The Government of Canada still says that it “expects” Canadian companies operating overseas to respect human rights, all applicable laws and recognized international standards for responsible business practices, as well as “Canadian values.” But it notes that if this is not possible, “companies may wish to reconsider their investment.” This is important guidance for Canadian companies operating in places such as Eritrea or Tibet where it is flatly impossible for them to meet these requirements.

The Government also recognizes that it provides, and has the power to withhold, significant services to Canadian extractives companies operating overseas through “economic diplomacy,” as well as through financial support by, for example, “financing by Government of Canada crown corporations, like Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC).”

The revised CSR Strategy claims to make these services contingent on Canadian companies demonstrating their alignment with the CSR strategy, but the only specific threat is that these services will be withdrawn if companies do not participate “in the dialogue facilitation processes of Canada’s NCP and Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor.” (The “NCP” is the National Contact Point for the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.) Both of these institutions have consistently failed to make a meaningful contribution to resolving conflicts instigated by Canadian companies, and merely ensuring that companies at least participate in their processes is unlikely to change this.

MiningWatch Canada and the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability have called for the creation of an extractive sector Ombudsman with the power to respond to complaints by actually conducting an independent investigation of a company’s behaviour overseas and reporting on the findings. The Ombudsman would also have the power to recommend remedy in cases where it has been found that companies have breached established guidelines and caused harm to complainants, as well as recommending that Canadian government financial and political support be withheld.

The Government’s revised CSR Strategy does not address the need many complainants have expressed for independent investigations to substantiate the facts of the complaints and report on those findings and potential remedies.

Finally, the revised CSR Strategy posits the CSR Counsellor as an initial or “front-end” office for complainants to bring concerns. Complainants would only be referred to the NCP if the Counsellor’s efforts to resolve concerns “have not succeeded or are not appropriate, or if the CSR Counsellor determines that a situation would benefit from formal mediation.” While the NCP’s track record is almost as bad as the Counsellor’s, complainants should in no way be obliged to go through the Counsellor prior to lodging a complaint or seeking mediation through the NCP.

Contact: Catherine Coumans, (613) 569-3439 or (613) 256-8331, [email protected]