New Federal CSR Counsellor an “Industry Man” – Weak Mandate Remains

(Ottawa) On Sunday, March 1, International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced the appointment of a new federal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor for the extractive sector. The post has been empty since the last one left quietly in October 2013, before the end of her contract.

The new CSR Counsellor, Jeffrey Davidson, has a long history of working for mining companies from Placer Dome to Rio Tinto, including a stint at the World Bank. But like the first CSR Counsellor, Marketa Evans, he will be working under a misguided mandate, focussed more on trying to stem opposition to mining at Canadian mining sites around the world than on holding Canadian companies to account for the damage they cause to people and the environment internationally and ensuring that people who are harmed are provided fair remedy for the harm that they have endured.

“We are waiting to see the details of the CSR Counsellor’s new Order-in-Council mandate,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, “but the broad statements out of the Government to date indicate that this office will continue to not even address, in any meaningful way, some very serious problems.”

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 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, released in November 2014, does not address the need many complainants have expressed for independent investigations and public reporting to substantiate the facts of their complaints and form the basis for remedy. Furthermore, although the revised CSR Strategy recognizes that the Government has the power to withhold significant support that it provides to Canadian extractives companies operating overseas through “economic diplomacy,” as well as through financing by Government of Canada crown corporations, like Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), the Government will only do so in cases where companies refuse to participate “in the dialogue facilitation processes of Canada’s NCP [national contact point for the OECD Guidelines] and Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor.”

“There is no indication that the Government is even considering withholding financial and political support to companies that have breached human rights and environmental standards, or caused harm, or refuse to provide (or subject themsleves to) fair remedy,” says Coumans.

Although the Counsellor-less Office has continued to cost the government money – according to information released in January, $181,600 for the previous year – there is no evidence it did any work. Even the closing report on a complaint against New Gold Inc. in Cerro de San Pedro, Mexico, which was the previous CSR Counsellor was supposedly working on when she left office, has been not been completed.

For more information contact: Catherine Coumans, [email protected], 613-569-3439