(Ottawa) Civil society groups are calling on the new Liberal federal government to use the upcoming budget to do away with the ineffective and embarrassing Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor. The Office was created in 2009 by the Conservative government of the day in response to growing public pressure to make Canadian mining and extractive sector companies accountable for serious and extensive human rights abuses associated with their international operations.
The CSR Counsellor was supposed to mediate solutions for people claiming they had been harmed by the activities of Canadian mining companies operating overseas. The office did not manage to mediate a single resolution in any of the six cases brought before it. Then in October, 2013, CSR Counsellor Marketa Evans quietly walked away from the job, leaving the Office without a Counsellor for 16 months. In 2014 alone, the inactive and Counsellor-less office cost Canadian taxpayers $181,600.
In March, 2015, the Harper government appointed a new CSR Counsellor, mining professor and former mining company executive Jeffrey Davidson, but Davidson has yet to receive an official Order in Council mandate.
As the new government sets out to review various Conservative institutions and appointments, critics say this one deserves to simply be closed to make way for a more effective approach to corporate accountability.
“The Office of the CSR Counsellor was always a deeply flawed response to calls on the Government of Canada to create an effective Ombudsman’s office that would be able to address the very serious complaints coming from people harmed by the operations of Canadian mining companies overseas,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada.
Coumans does not put the blame on Davidson, who has had no opportunity to prove his abilities, but says the institution itself has proven unable to field the complaints. “Rather than provide Davidson with a mandate to keep this ineffective office open, it is time to close this office down and put the resources into the creation of an effective Ombudsman’s office,” Coumans adds.
“The upcoming federal budget provides the ideal opportunity to cut the Counsellor’s office and set that money aside for a real Ombudsman, one with real powers and responsibilities.”
MiningWatch Canada supports the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability’s call for the creation of such an extractives Ombudsman office, as well as for access to Canadian courts for people alleging harm by Canadian companies operating overseas.
For more information: Catherine Coumans, [email protected], (613) 569-3439
The Office of the CSR Counsellor was the Harper government’s response to one of the key recommendations in the final report (2007) of national consultations called the National Roundtables on CSR and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries (CSR Roundtables), held in 2006. The recommendation, which called for the creation of a mining Ombudsman, was based on consensus between civil society and industry members of an Advisory Group to the CSR Roundtables. The recommendation called for an office that can receive complaints from people affected by the operations of Canadian extractive companies operating overseas; is empowered to investigate these complaints and report publicly on the findings of investigations; and, if necessary, may recommend that the Government of Canada withhold financial and political support to the company in question.
In 2009, Liberal Member of Parliament John McKay put forward private member’s bill C-300, which was eventually voted down in October, 2010. It would have created a more effective complaints mechanism, excluding companies from receiving political and financial support from the government if they were found to have violated international human rights standards. Liberal MPs also voted unanimously – along with NDP MPs – in favour of a 2014 private member’s bill by NDP MP Ève Péclet (C-584) that sought to create an Ombudsman office to investigate complaints regarding the activities of Canada’s extractive sector companies operating overseas.
See also: MiningWatch Canada, 2014. Submission to the Government of Canada’s Review of Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the Canadian Extractive Sector, attached.