MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian Government Acknowledges Power to Act on Extractive Companies, Declines to Do So

Published by MAC on 2014-11-15
Source: Statements, Canadian Press, Globe & Mail, Embassy (2014-11-14)

The Canadian federal government has updated his five-year review of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy.

There appear to be some gains, but also much to be worried about. The "gains" are that the Canadian Government for the first time actually mentions human rights as needing to be respected by companies, in order to reflect the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights). It is particularly interesting that the Government explicitly recognizes that it provides financial and political support to Canadian extractive companies operating overseas and has the power to withhold that support.

However, it seems that the Government will only wield this tool to make companies participate in the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor's process and the National Contact Point (NCP) of the OECD. The recent record of either does not give much cause for hope that this will act as a serious deterent.

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

MiningWatch Canada release

14 November 2014

(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, catherine[at]miningwatch.ca


Government fails to create an extractive-sector Ombudsman, despite broad public support

Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability press release

14 November 2014

OTTAWA - The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) is deeply disappointed that the federal government is not establishing an independent Ombudsman to investigate human rights complaints involving corporate activity abroad, as part of the five-year review of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy announced today.

Over 95,000 Canadians wrote to Parliament in the past year to call for the creation of an extractive-sector Ombudsman, through the CNCA's Open for Justice campaign. Last month, a private member's bill to create such an Ombudsman, Bill C-584, received support from all opposition parties in Parliament but was voted down by the government.

"The Government of Canada's CSR Strategy failed, and will continue to fail, because it doesn't allow for independent investigation of corporate activities abroad or any remedy for local communities or workers who are harmed by irresponsible corporate conduct," said Ken Neumann, Canadian National Director of the United Steelworkers.

"While it's positive that the government strategy now acknowledges companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, there are no new mechanisms to ensure compliance but more of the same voluntary approach and self-regulation," said Ian Thomson of KAIROS Canada.

Despite public calls for substantial reform, International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced today that the Office of theCSR Counsellor is being retained. Canadian mining companies have not cooperated with the CSR Counsellor's grievance mechanism process since it was launched in 2010, choosing instead to walk away and effectively shutting down any review of their conduct. It is not clear how the government's new approach of threatening to remove a few limited government services, such as letters of recommendation or a spot on a trade mission, will compel companies to act more constructively.

According to Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada: "Industry and civil society have so little respect for the CSR Counsellor's Office because it's totally ineffective. The solution is not to force companies to participate in an ineffective process, but to make it more meaningful by establishing real powers of fact-finding, public reporting and remediation."

"Ultimately, it is the most vulnerable communities adversely impacted by Canadian companies who will pay the highest price because they have no genuine recourse when their human rights are violated," said Josianne Gauthier of Development and Peace.

CNCA had hoped the government would make substantial reforms to its CSR Strategy for the International Extractive Sector this year. The Open for Justice campaign will continue to call for the creation of an extractive-sector Ombudsman and legislated access to Canadian courts for non-nationals harmed by Canadian companies abroad.

The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) brings together human rights, international development, social justice and environmental NGOs, faith groups and labour unions to advocate for mandatory corporate accountability standards for Canadian extractive companies operating abroad, especially in developing countries.

For further information: Ian Thomson, CNCA Chairperson, ithomson[at]kairoscanada.org, 613-235-9956 ext. 222;
Bob Gallagher, United Steelworkers, bgallagher[at]usw.ca, 416-434-2221;
Kelly DiDomenico, Development and Peace, kelly.didomenico[at]devp.org, 514-257-8710 ext. 365


Ottawa to punish resource firms that break social-responsibility rules abroad

The Canadian Press

14 November 2014

OTTAWA - The federal government is planning to punish bad behaviour by Canadian resource firms operating abroad if they break Ottawa's new rules on corporate social responsibility.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced Friday that Ottawa will withdraw government support from Canadian mining and energy companies that refuse to help resolve disputes with local communities.

Fast said companies that do not co-operate will lose the support of Ottawa's economic diplomacy and trade services, according to the prepared text of a speech he delivered in New Westminster, B.C.

The Canadian mining sector has large operations in developing countries, where companies have faced numerous allegations — from environmental destruction to human rights abuses.

Critics, meanwhile, have said the government hasn't done enough to crack down on Canadian companies accused of transgressions abroad.

"We are ensuring that Canadian companies engage in our process because if they do not, or fail to embody CSR (corporate social responsibility) best practices, we will withdraw Government of Canada support," the text of Fast's speech said.

"Our message is simple: If you don't play ball by doing business the Canadian way, then we won't go to bat for you."

The change in strategy came as a result of consultations Fast started last year.

He said he will also give the government's corporate social responsibility "counsellor" a more proactive mandate to prevent and detect disputes between Canadian firms and local communities. Ottawa is looking to fill the position left vacant after the departure of the last counsellor, Marketa Evans.

Until now, the role of the office was to solve problems by bringing parties together, not by investigating allegations.


Ottawa vows to protect ‘Canada brand’ with social responsibility policy

Shawn McCarthy

The Globe and Mail

14 November 2014

OTTAWA — The federal government plans to punish mining and energy companies that run afoul of its new corporate social responsibility policy by withdrawing support they receive from agencies such as Export Development Canada and embassies abroad.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast is to announce the measure in a speech in Vancouver Friday, saying it is important to protect Canada’s “brand” as a global heavyweight in the resource industries.

“Let there be no mistake,” the minister says in a draft copy of the speech provided to The Globe and Mail, “Canada’s expertise in the extractive sector is second to none; Canada is a world leader in sustainable technology, and in environmentally, ethnically and socially responsible business practices. That is the ‘Canada brand’ – it is how we are known throughout the world.”

The government is launching a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy as part of its broader effort to enhance the business prospects for resource companies abroad. Toronto is a global centre for mining finance and Canadian-based companies are particularly prominent in Africa and South America, where more than 250 companies controlled $81-billion in assets in 2011.

Moving with the European Union and the United States, Ottawa is already set to impose new transparency standards on resource companies, having introduced legislation this fall that will require them to report all payments made to national, state and local governments both at home and abroad.

In the speech to be delivered Friday, Mr. Fast said he will appoint a new CSR counsellor to fill a post that has been empty for a year, and give the ombudsman role some teeth by insisting companies co-operate with the office or lose the support of the government. Many mining and oil companies rely on Export Development Canada to provide insurance against political risk and other losses, as well as lines of credit and other financial support. Commercial counsellors in embassies can play an important advisory role, particularly in politically unstable or violence-prone countries.

“Our message is clear: If you don’t play ball by doing business the Canadian way, then we won’t go to bat for you,” he said.

While the Trade Minister extols the international reputation of Canadian companies, many critics have complained about human rights and labour abuse and poor environmental practices. And they argue that a government ombudsman should be given investigatory powers and the ability to ensure companies co-operate in arbitration cases.

Mr. Fast has now concluded a review of the corporate social responsibility policy that was first announced in 2009. Under the mandate of the CSR counsellor, company co-operation will still be voluntary and informal, but with a “hammer” that failure to adhere to Ottawa’s policy and work with the counsellor will mean the forfeiture of government support. Ottawa will also require companies to adhere to CSR guidelines set out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which include formal dispute settlement mediation.

The previous counsellor, Marketa Evans, was handicapped by the lack of enforcement power in her role as arbitrator of disputes between Canadian companies and local unions and communities. Ms. Evans drew criticism for spending time and money to attend conferences but doing little investigative work; she quietly resigned a year ago.

She was able to mediate none of the six cases that were filed with her office. One case involved Toronto-based Excellon Resources Ltd., which walked away from the process when Ms. Evans attempted to hold talks between the company and its workers at the La Platosa Mine in Durango, Mexico.


Crucial stick for mining sector in new CSR strategy is possible withdrawal of trade commissioner support

By James Munson

http://www.ipolitics.ca/2014/11/14/crucial-stick-for-mining-sector-in-new-csr-strategy-is-possible-withdrawal-of-trade-commissioner-support/

14 November 2014

The federal government has given itself new powers to punish mining and oil and gas companies who fail to adopt its new corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy for the extractive sector but questions remain about how rigorously they will be used.

Around 44 per cent of the equity capital raised in the mining sector last year passed through the Toronto Stock Exchange, making Canada a global extractive hub.

This leadership has also led to scrutiny of Ottawa’s policy towards the ethical and legal actions of mining firms overseas, which the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) packages as its CSR strategy.

Namely, human rights and international development NGOs have been dismissive of the CSR strategy’s counsellor’s office, which was meant to mediate disputes with mining firms but had no power to compel a company to participate.

In the new strategy unveiled by International Trade Minister Ed Fast Friday, Ottawa appears to have given itself a bigger stick with which to prod companies into adopting CSR standards by suggesting uncooperative firms will lose financial and diplomatic support from Canada if they don’t participate.

But alongside other changes — a more specific role for the CSR counsellor, a bigger one for the OECD National Contact Point for the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the soon-to-be-announced Extractive Sector Strategy — it’s unclear when and where the threat will be put into practice.

Withdrawal of financial support

The new CSR strategy is intended to fit inside DFATD’s makeover as a department charged with practicing “economic diplomacy” through its Global Markets Action Plan, in essence a marriage among the department’s commercial, diplomatic and humanitarian aims.

“If an extractive company fails to embody CSR best practices and refuses to take part in the mechanisms available to resolve a dispute under our strengthened and enhanced CSR Strategy, they will no longer benefit from the support of our economic diplomacy and services provided by the Government of Canada and its Trade Commissioner Service,” said Fast in Vancouver.

Though the introduction of this new tool is a big change, Fast’s announcement left aside some critical details on how it will be used.

Based on the above quote, a company could be in breach of the government’s CSR standards (it points to six different sets of guidelines,) agree to take part in the dispute resolution processes at DFATD and still receive funding and help from the Trade Commissioner Service, said Catherine Coumans, research coordinator at NGO Miningwatch.

“If the CSR counsellor finds that a corporation’s actions have breached the guidelines and someone has been harmed, it doesn’t necessarily say that those would be reasons to withdraw financial and political support,” said Coumans.

The new strategy also says that if a company is not complying with its standards, that designation will be taken into account by Export Development Canada, the government’s funding arm for the private sector overseas, when it reviews request for financing.

But this isn’t much different than current practices, said Pierre Gratton, president of the Mining Association of Canada.

“They’ve always considered those aspects,” said Gratton. “This is maybe a more formal articulation of it.”

The threat of losing trade commissioner support, however, is much more substantive, he said.

“What is more a meaningful change is that trade commissioners around the world, if you’ve got a company that is refusing to participate in a CSR counsellor-led process, they’re not going to get support from those trade commissioners,” he said.

“They’ll be on their own, and the Canadian government’s support abroad is very helpful,” he said.

Smaller role for the CSR counsellor

The government’s policy has always suffered from the slight redundancy of having two offices to deal with corporate and community conflict: one for the extractive sector specifically and another for disputes in the private sector generally called the OECD National Contact Point for Multinational Enterprises.

Since both offices functioned under different mandates, advocates for communities in conflict with extractive firms often used both avenues to seek redress.

As part of the new CSR strategy, the two offices will now complement each other.

The CSR counsellor will focus on prevention and providing advice in a dispute early on, while the National Contact Point — so-called because each of the 44 countries party to the OECD guidelines assigns a specific department the role of handling disputes — will take on all formal mediation.

“This clarifies the issue of dispute resolution much better than the old strategy,” said Gratton.

The decision appears to reduce the role of the CSR counsellor, since the office was already employed in providing advice and promoting CSR standards.

Bigger role for the National Contact Point

The National Contact Point, despite initially having little experience with the extractive sector, has now built up experience dealing with miners, said Fast in his speech.

But Coumans is worried that putting the two offices in this order might discourage complainants from using the National Contact Point by forcing them to go through the CSR counsellor first.

“This could be putting in a new barrier for the National Contact Point,” she said.

While the CSR counsellor has received the bulk of negative publicity from its critics, Miningwatch and human rights advocates have long criticized the National Contact Point.

After Fast’s announcement, there isn’t an indication that its mandate will be expanded.

Notably, neither the CSR counsellor nor the National Contact Point will receive new powers such as the ability to independently investigate a conflict and recommend remedy, something groups like Miningwatch and the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability have requested.

“This is what a lot of people who are harmed by Canadian mining companies want the NCP or the CSR cousellor to do,” said Coumans.
Promotional strategy coming soon

In tandem with the CSR strategy review, Fast has been holding consultations on another strategy that would try to promote Canada’s mining companies, called the Extractive Sector Strategy.

On Friday, Fast said the strategy would be coming soon, but he did not provide a deadline.

The strategy would represent the final pillar of the government’s Global Action Markets Plan, he said.


Feds take industry advice on social responsibility policy

Controversial CSR counsellor job stays, with some tinkering.

http://www.embassynews.ca/news/2014/11/19/feds-take-industry-advice-on-social-responsibility-policy/46403/?mlc=618&muid=77

19 November 2014

The Harper government’s updated corporate social responsibility policy for Canadian oil, mining and gas companies operating abroad generally follows what the mining industry wanted.

While at least one industry association is largely happy with the changes, several regular critics of Canadian mining activities abroad say the federal government’s strategy is positive in some respects, but could have gone further.

Trade Minister Ed Fast announced the government’s revised CSR policy at a Nov. 14 press conference in New Westminster, BC. Interested groups were anxious for the strategy to be released after nearly a year of consultations, reviewing the government’s original 2009 policy, a couple planks of which have hit bumps in the road.

The Canadian extractive sector is a huge part of Canada’s brand abroad. Canada’s mining, oil and gas companies account for almost half the mining and exploration activity in the world, according to the federal government. Canadian-based extractive companies have interests in more than 8,000 properties in more than 100 countries.

Toronto is a global hub for mining finance, and Canada is home to more than half of the world’s publicly listed exploration and mining companies.

While Canadian extractive-sector companies have boosted the livelihoods of people in many poor countries where they work, many have also been accused of being responsible for immediate and long-term environmental degradation and human rights abuses.

Carrots and sticks

In the new strategy, Mr. Fast said he would keep, but retool, the office of the corporate social responsibility counsellor, a role that both industry and its critics had suggested was ineffective.

After the office launched in 2010 as an arm’s-length outpost of the trade department, counsellor Marketa Evans didn’t have much luck mediating any of the six cases that came before her. The voluntary nature of the mediation process meant when companies decided not to participate, she had little choice but to close files without resolution. This happened three times. She resigned to pursue other opportunities outside government in the fall of 2013, and the position remains open. Mr. Fast announced a selection process to fill the job on Nov. 14.

He took the Mining Association of Canada’s advice by repositioning the CSR counsellor’s office. It will now promote CSR guidelines, give advice and work to resolve conflicts in their early stages, with potential for dispute referral to another non-judicial and voluntary government-linked mediation service. That service, called Canada’s National Contact Point, is an interdepartmental committee that is supposed to encourage companies to follow the OECD's voluntary guidelines for good corporate governance, and provide a forum for dispute resolution based on those guidelines.

Mr. Fast said the government could reward compliant companies with “enhanced” government diplomatic services, and punish unco-operative firms. Companies or others unwilling to participate in either dispute settlement through the NCP or CSR counsellor could see the government publicize this, and possibly yank a company’s access to federal support through the trade commissioner service, trade missions, and financing by the Crown corporation Export Development Canada.

Catherine Coumans, a spokesperson for the watchdog group MiningWatch Canada, said it’s the first time the government has agreed to make financial and political support contingent on companies meeting environmental and human-rights standards. “That’s a big deal,” she said, but cautioned that it’s being narrowly applied.

They aren’t big enough incentives or punishments to coax a company to participate if it wouldn’t otherwise, said Ian Thomson, chair of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, a coalition of human rights, foreign aid, faith, labour union and other groups.

“Not getting to take part in a Trade Canada mission, I just don’t see that as being make-or-break,” he said.

And the government isn’t yanking Export Development Canada financing from a noncompliant company, he said. It’s saying EDC would take into account the company’s actions in deciding whether to give financing. This gives too much wiggle room, he said.

Mr. Thomson’s coalition has been pushing the government to appoint an independent ombudsman. An NDP private member’s bill with a similar aim was voted down last month by Conservatives although it had opposition support.

The updated strategy doesn’t go far enough toward the functions of an ombudsman, both he and Ms. Coumans said.

“It’s all stuck in that let’s-talk mode, not in a real investigation of whether or not the company is living up to the guidelines the government of Canada has set for companies,” said Ms. Coumans. She’d rather see an ombudsman do fact-finding and make public their recommendations.

She and Mr. Thomson were both also concerned that the new process, by setting up the CSR counsellor’s office as an “intake” shop with potential referral to the National Contact Point, would create an extra barrier for communities needing formal mediation.

When asked whether National Contact Point mediation would be contingent on first going through the counsellor’s office, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development confirmed by email that, as before, groups or individuals could bring requests for review directly to the NCP, if they qualify under its rules.

For industry: ‘It hits the mark’

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, said he thought the strategy had a lot of elements of what he understood to be an ombudsman function.

“We're generally quite supportive of it, we think it hits the mark,” he said. “It’s quite aligned with the recommendations we made.”

Besides the new division of tasks between the CSR counsellor’s office and NCP, the mining association had recommended that government take away support for companies that refuse to participate in the initial grievance process with the counsellor’s office. The government strategy also stresses working through local grievance processes in the host country first before resorting to the Canadian mechanisms, which the mining association also suggested.

The mining association and another industry group, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, recommended boosting the use of trade commissioners abroad and diplomatic staff to help companies with CSR activities. The government said it would increase CSR training at Canadian diplomatic missions to ensure consistent CSR-related services to the Canadian business community abroad, the building of local partnerships and the ability to detect problems early on and help fix them before they get bigger.

Mr. Gratton suggested the government’s proposed sanctions are tough enough.

“Certainly for a lot of smaller companies out there that rely a lot on [diplomatic] mission support, I think this is important,” he said in a phone interview. “[If] that stick gets too big and they’ll stop being a Canadian company and they’ll become Australian. So I think you have to balance things. I think the signal that your country has basically distanced itself from you is a pretty significant statement.”

The government also gave a nod to Engineers Without Borders in noting in the strategy the benefits of companies procuring resources locally in host countries. Jeff Geipel, who works on mining issues with the engineering group, said the attention to local procurement was a welcome addition that his group had pushed for.

The government made little mention in the strategy of a key part of the 2009 policy, a CSR Centre of Excellence that would convene academics, human rights groups and mining industry experts to develop and distribute CSR tools and information. The centre lost steam in 2012 after government funding ran dry and five civil society groups left. The group is still getting some government project-specific money for workshops, said Ben Chalmers, a mining association staffer on the centre’s executive committee.

The new strategy noted that the government “values its role as an observer” on the centre’s executive committee, and “will continue to participate” in the centre’s activities. It did not mention any new funding.

The government says it plans to review the CSR strategy again in five years.


Feds move gingerly toward protecting ‘Canada brand’ in foreign mining operations

Government threatens to withdraw support from Canadian companies that act unethically abroad

By Bruce Cheadle

The Canadian Press

22 November 2014

OTTAWA – It’s taken almost a decade of loud, often unwelcome advocacy, but the federal government appears to finally recognize that Canada’s international brand needs a little spit and polish.

In back-to-back addresses this week to a Mining Association of Canada luncheon, two federal cabinet ministers repeatedly stressed the critical importance of what they called the “Canada brand” — and how it is a key to grabbing new business in the mining sector.

“We as a government and Canadians broadly speaking expect our companies to do business in a way that reflects the highest ethical standards, that reflects the highest environmental standards, the highest level of corporate social responsibility, the highest level of transparency,” International Trade Minister Ed Fast told the gathering at an Ottawa hotel.

Fast recited a host of laudatory statistics: about 1,200 Canadian mining companies operate more than 8,000 properties in over 100 countries, with 35 per cent of global exploration budgets coming from Canada.

“Can we do things better? Of course, there’s always things we can improve,” Fast finally conceded.

“But I’m absolutely confident that we have a very, very good story to tell.”

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford had already warmed up the crowd by cautioning that “there can be no compromise” on environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

“Our collective actions — government and industry — are critical to meeting our obligations (for) safety of the environment and the communities in which we operate, here and abroad,” said Rickford.

Their pitch came with a lot of puffery about further government assistance for Canada’s dominant mining sector — but also, notably, the hint of a stick, too.

For the first time, the federal government is threatening to withdraw financial and political support from Canadian companies that don’t live up to its social responsibility ideals.

For non-governmental organizations that have been fielding mining development horror stories for years, it’s a start.

A revamped, corporate social responsibility counsellor will screen foreign community complaints about mining operations and companies that refuse to co-operate with the counsellor will lose government support.

MiningWatch Canada began advocating for poor communities hurt by Canadian mining operations abroad in 1999 and spokeswoman Catherine Coumans says there used to be shocked disbelief that Canada’s Boy Scout self-image could be tarnished by poor corporate behaviour.

“Of course they won’t say in public there’s a big problem,” Coumans says of today’s government.

“But to see a Conservative government like this one say, ‘Look, we need to put things in place like a CSR counsellor, we need to have a penalty like withholding financial and political support’ — you don’t do that if you think there’s no problem.

“So we’ve definitely come somewhere.”

The new counsellor still has no power to independently investigate problems, recommend solutions or issue reports — but he or she will have leverage to at least get alleged offenders to come to the table to talk.

Under the previous federal counsellor, who resigned four years into her five-year mandate without explanation, three of six formal complaints she handled simply died when the companies involved refused to play ball.

The government also now says it will withdraw support from companies that don’t follow social responsibility guidelines. However, without any investigative mechanism, it is not clear how such a sanction would be adjudicated.

“Who will be in charge of the supervision of those companies and their operations abroad?” Ryan Worms of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace asked in an interview.

“Who will make sure that there is some transparent investigations? No one. That’s the main problem we see again.”

Nonetheless he too, like MiningWatch’s Coumans, sees merit in something less than half a loaf.

“We are moving slowly, of course, but we are moving,” said Worms.

New federal legislation is also in the pipeline that would force Canadian companies to detail payments to all levels of government, a transparency measure designed to discourage graft, kickbacks and bribes.

Fast, speaking to reporters after last week’s mining lunch, said there is a long list of success stories of Canadian companies acting responsibly around the world, while acknowledging that the ugly incidents make the news.

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, said the increasingly dominant notion of resource companies requiring a “social licence” to operate is being applied at home and abroad.

He noted there are more than 260 agreements in Canada between aboriginal communities and mining companies. “Find me another sector that has anything close.”

He said the same principle applies abroad.

“We’re not going to pretend that every project we develop will be without incident. Sometimes there are,” said Gratton.

“But we’re getting better and committed to improving, and certainly there’s a recognition that corporate responsibility is not just a nice to-do. It’s core to being able to be welcomed in the countries where we develop and to grow within those countries.”

That bottom-line corporate recognition, coupled with the principle that Ottawa has and can wield some leverage on companies, is cause for optimism, said Coumans.

“We’re not talking anymore about whether or not there is an issue. We’re talking about what is the right way to deal with the issue — and even there I think we’re making some progress,” said the longtime advocate.


Canadian government tries to protect the reputation of its mining companies - it's got its work cut out

by Marco Simons

Earth Rights International blog

24 November 2014

The Economist is reporting on a Canadian government initiative to promote the interests of its mining companies abroad if they will agree to take part in a dispute resolution process with local communities. It's not clear what this process would look like; we would urge community involvement in creating the process.

But it's clear that, in the reputation-management department, the government has a tough road ahead. In addition to ERI's own release about Barrick, I compiled the following list of Canadian mining companies involved in abusive and/or polluting projects around the world - off the top of my head:

·  NevSun Resources, sued just last week for alleged slave labor in Eritrea

·  Goldcorp, allegedly involved in abuses against local indigenous groups and pollution in Guatemala

·  Glamis Gold, which sued the US government over California and federal environmental regulations (and lost) (now part of Goldcorp)

·  Anvil mining, sued (unsuccessfully) in Canada over alleged involvement in a massacre in the DR Congo

·  Tahoe Resources, sued in Canada over its security forces' shooting of seven protestors, and whose license was suspended in Guatemala after a lawsuit there

·  Pacific Rim mining, which has sued El Salvador over that country's refusal to grant environmental permits

·  HudBay Minerals, sued in Canada over alleged involvement by its security guards in gang rapes and a killing in Guatemala

There's a reason that's there's an entire organization devoted to monitoring the actions of Canadian mining companies - our fantastic partner, MiningWatch Canada - and that the Inter-American Human Rights Commission recently devoted a hearing to the same topic. It's not a pretty record. Let's hope the new government initiative, along with efforts for legal accountability, can start to turn this around.

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