MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Canadian Ombudsperson to begin receiving human rights abuse complaints from abroad

Published by MAC on 2021-03-18
Source: Western Standard Online, Globe and Mail, CNCA

Corporate ethics Ombudsman Sheri Meyerhoffer admited she hasn’t done a single report in two years.

The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) announced that her office is open to receive complaints of possible human rights abuses arising from the operations abroad of Canadian companies in mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors. A new online form is the foundation of the CORE's complaint process. https://core-ombuds.canada.ca/core_ombuds-ocre_ombuds/complaint-plainte.aspx?lang=eng

The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability has warned against placing any confidence in this office. It serves, rather, to reminding us that the Canadian government takes every opportunity to support the mining industry politically and financially, even when it is in violation of the law, but imposes no meaningful controls whatsoever on the activities of Canadian companies operating internationally.

See also:
 
2018-12-23 Canada's new corporate ombudsperson needs real power
2013-11-02 Canada and Latin America - where is the accountability?
 

Office probing human rights abuses by Canadian companies abroad to begin investigating complaints

Steven Chase

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-office-probing-human-rights-abuses-by-canadian-companies-abroad-to/

March 15, 2021

Three years after it was first announced, an office empowered by Ottawa to investigate allegations of human rights abuses arising from Canadian corporate activity abroad is finally open for business.

As of March 15, Sheri Meyerhoffer, the federal government’s first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, will start accepting complaints.

Ms. Meyerhoffer’s mandate will cover human rights abuses linked to overseas corporate conduct in three areas: mining, petroleum and the garment industry.

The office is opening its doors just as debate grows over how Western countries should respond to reports of forced labour in China, particularly among ethnic minority groups such as the Uyghurs.

The office, which operates at arm’s length from the government, replaces the now-defunct Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, created in 2009 under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

The new ombudsperson has more powers than its predecessor in that Ms. Meyerhoffer will be able to conduct independent investigations into complaints.

She won’t have all the tools the Trudeau government originally promised, however. When the office was first announced, Ottawa said it would have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence and produce documents, but the government never followed through.

Emily Dwyer, co-ordinator with the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, said she considers the absence of such powers a major flaw.

“Without the power to compel documents and testimony, it is an office that has to rely on companies voluntarily sharing information,” Ms. Dwyer said, blaming a push by industry for the rollback.

Ms. Meyerhoffer, a Saskatchewan-born lawyer with years of experience in Alberta’s oil patch as well as international development focused on human rights and rule of law, said in an interview that she believes she has sufficient tools for now.

“We can receive and respond to complaints. We can initiate reviews ... we can conduct investigations, we can engage in mediation,” she said. “We have what we need to make a real, positive difference.”

Her office, which has 10 staff at the moment, will be able to travel to investigate complaints wherever necessary. Its operating budget has not yet been set.

Canadian businesses won’t be able to dodge scrutiny by the ombudsperson simply because their operations are handled by a separate supplier or contractor. The definition of ‘Canadian company’ under her mandate includes any entities that a Canadian firm controls – directly or indirectly – abroad. This could include suppliers and contractors.

“Let’s say it’s a factory in Bangladesh and the only client they have is a Canadian company – that’s indirect control,” Ms. Meyerhoffer said.

John Packer, an associate professor of law and director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa, said while the power to compel witness testimony and documents would be useful for Ms. Meyerhoffer, it is not a silver-bullet solution.

“It would place her in a more adversarial position vis-à-vis commercial actors. She needs co-operation,” Mr. Packer said. “That comes in various ways – not only through coercion.”

Conservative human rights critic Garnett Genuis said he thinks the new office could play a role to rein in corporate misconduct abroad, but believes its tools are insufficient to address allegations of forced labour in China. Last year, End Uyghur Forced Labour (a coalition of 180 groups, including human rights advocates and unions) estimated that one in five cotton garments sold in the world contains cotton or yarn from China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing has detained up to one million Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities and forced some to work in factories. These minority groups have also been dispersed into coercive labour programs across China.

Last month, the House of Commons passed a resolution condemning China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities as genocide.

“While it may be possible that this office could play a role in combating Canadian complicity in Uyghur slave labour, we need to recognize the real challenges around meaningfully investigating individual cases in Xinjiang, given the direct involvement of the Chinese state and the inevitable lack of access for investigators,” Mr. Genuis said

He urged Ottawa to consider legislation such as the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act in the U.S., which has already passed the House of Representatives and would require the U.S. to assume all goods imported from Xinjiang are made with forced labour unless customs officials are able to certify otherwise.


Canadian Human Rights Ombud launches online complaint process as key part of global mandate to protect rights

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/canadian-human-rights-ombud-launches-online-complaint-process-as-key-part-of-global-mandate-to-protect-rights-874163113.html

Mar 15, 2021

GATINEAU, QC, March 15, 2021 /CNW Telbec/ - Sheri Meyerhoffer, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), announced today that her office is open to receive complaints of possible human rights abuses arising from the operations abroad of Canadian companies in mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors.

A new, easy-to-use online form is the foundation of the CORE's complaint process. Anyone with internet access can now lodge a complaint. Additional methods to file a complaint are available through email, voice mail or by mail.

Ms. Meyerhoffer and her team will work to resolve human rights disputes as early as possible, including through mediation. The CORE is required to issue public reports on their findings and is empowered to make remedial recommendations to the Minister of International Trade.

As a human rights Ombud, the CORE brings independence, impartiality and transparency to its work. The CORE is committed to accessible dispute resolution processes where everyone – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, language, age, disability or any combination of characteristics – can participate, exercise their rights, and be heard.

Please visit the CORE website at https://core-ombuds.canada.ca for more information.

Quotes

"This is a crucial step forward in our mission to help promote and protect human rights and Canada's reputation in the world. Our new online portal is an easy way for people and communities abroad to raise issues and concerns. CORE is the first office of its kind anywhere. Canadians should take pride in this – and in our country's ongoing commitment to human rights."       

-       Sheri Meyerhoffer, Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

"We know that Canadians expect our businesses to uphold the highest standards of responsible business conduct, both at home and abroad. The first office of its kind in the world, the CORE is mandated both to help Canadian companies meet those standards, and to offer accessible, effective dispute resolution. With the launch of its complaint-intake system, the CORE has established a foundational mechanism that will advance Canada's responsible business conduct work for years to come. We will continue to support the CORE as they deliver on their important mandate."

-       The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade

Quick facts

    CORE is the first Ombud's office in the world with a focused mandate on holding companies accountable for their actions in operations abroad.
    CORE is an independent, non-partisan body. We operate at arm's length from Global Affairs Canada and report directly to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade.
    Established in 2019, CORE helps protect human rights by ensuring that Canadian companies abroad in the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors uphold their rights obligations and reflect Canadian values.
    CORE adheres to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
    Sheri Meyerhoffer was appointed Canada's first Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise on April 8, 2019, by the Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade and Diversification. Ms. Meyerhoffer brings 17 years of experience as a lawyer in the oil and gas industry along with 13 years of experience in international governance, rule of law and human rights.
    CORE is the first Ombud's office in the world with a focused mandate to help Canadian companies meet high standards of responsible business conduct, and to hold them accountable for their actions in operations abroad.


Without investigatory powers, feds’ watchdog on mining industry is toothless

Emily Dwyer

https://cnca-rcrce.ca/2021/03/05/opinion-without-investigatory-powers-feds-watchdog-on-mining-industry-toothless/

March 5th, 2021

While Canada is mired in inaction, other advanced economies are stepping up. Europe is in the process of establishing mandatory, human rights legislation on due diligence.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised his government would create the world’s first-ever ombudsperson for business and human rights and committed to giving the ombudsperson the powers needed to do its job. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

The Government of Canada’s record on human rights and the mining sector is, at best, a pattern of inaction and, at worse, acquiescence to mining industry demands.

Three years ago, the federal government announced it would create the world’s first-ever ombudsperson for business and human rights and committed to giving the ombudsperson the powers needed to do its job. Canada, it appeared, was on track to become a world leader in human rights.

The creation of an ombudsperson position was much needed and long overdue. Canadian mining companies operating overseas have been associated with widespread human rights abuses, including allegations of forced labour, rape, and murder. Canada, in particular, needed to act given its global mining sector dominance and on-going government support to the industry.

But instead of investing the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) with the powers needed to do its job, the government dragged its feet and chose to commission a legal review—the McIsaac Report—to examine how to give the ombudsperson the powers it had promised.

Effectively, the government created a powerless position—an ombudsperson in name only. Without powers to order the production of documents and compel witness testimony under oath, CORE is an ineffective position similar to the other toothless mechanisms that came before it.

And what of that legal review? The Government of Canada appears to be ignoring and concealing its own expert legal advice. The government has had the McIsaac Report for over a year and a half, and has failed to act on the report’s findings or even make the report public.

A copy of the report, however, was recently leaked. On the “how” to invest the CORE with powers, the McIsaac report concludes that CORE can be granted powers to do its job through either the Inquiries Act or standalone legislation. The report also clearly states that, without these powers, CORE’s “effectiveness may be compromised.” That’s because “its effectiveness will be dependent on the cooperation of the complainant and the entity being investigated.”

To put it simply: without powers to investigate, all we are left with is the hope that mining companies will voluntarily do the right thing. Voluntary measures, however, to hold powerful corporations to account for their actions do not work. Canadian companies working in countries from the Philippines to Guatemala have been linked to allegations of permanent land and water contamination, demolition of houses, and gang rape, sometimes used as a tactic to forcibly relocate people to make room for mining company operations. By failing to act on its own legal advice, the federal government has caved to industry pressure and is allowing egregious mining industry practices to continue unchecked.

In early 2021, CORE is expected to, finally, open its doors to receive complaints. The government must invest CORE with powers to investigate human rights violations. Otherwise, individuals and communities harmed by Canadian companies will continue to have nowhere to turn for help and Canada may be complicit in corporate abuse.

By failing to live up to its own human rights commitments and by refusing to act on its own legal advice to give CORE real powers, Canada is demonstrating it is not the global leader on human rights that it claims to be. While Canada is mired in inaction, other advanced economies are stepping up. Europe is in the process of establishing mandatory, human rights legislation on due diligence that would require companies to identify, prevent, mitigate, and remedy human rights risks throughout their global operations and supply chains.

When confronted with a clear choice—be a leader in business and human rights or acquiesce to mining industry demands—Canada made the wrong decision. To ensure that human rights abuses are effectively addressed, and to prevent Canada from lagging further behind on human rights, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise must be invested with the powers it needs to do its job.


Ombudsman admits she’s hasn’t produced a report in two years

Dave Naylor

https://westernstandardonline.com/2021/02/ombudsman-admits-shes-hasnt-produced-a-report-in-two-years-despite-being-paid-432000/

February 28, 2021

Despite being paid $432,000 over the last two years federal corporate ethics Ombudsman Sheri Meyerhoffer admits she hasn’t even done one report yet or opened any investigations, says Blacklock’s Reporter.

“We realize how important it is to get this right,” said Meyerhoffer in questioning before a Commons subcommittee.

“So, we have been taking the time to create it. Our office is the first of its kind in the world. I believe Canadians should be proud of it, proud of our engagement to protect human rights abroad.”

Meyerhoffer appeared confused by some of the questions she was asked.

Cabinet in 2019 named her as Ombudsman for Responsible Enterprise responsible to answer complaints against Canadian mining, oil, gas and garment companies operating overseas. Meyerhoffer was previously the manager of industry operations for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Testifying before a Commons subcommittee on human rights, Meyerhoffer was asked to describe her mandate.

“Number one, is it a Canadian company? So, we have to determine whether it’s a Canadian company. Has a human rights abuse, is there an alleged human rights abuse, an international human rights? And is it outside of Canada? It has to be outside of Canada,” she said.

“We are independent and transparent in our work.

“What exactly is the budget?” asked Bloc Québécois MP Marilene Gill (Manicouagan, Que.).

“We have resources available to us,” replied Meyerhoffer.

“We are eager to begin our investigative work,” said Meyerhoffer whose office has a staff of ten.

Meyerhoffer said her office would soon launch a website to take anonymous complaints alleging corporate misconduct but a deadline was not set.

Meyerhoffer was appointed to a five-year term and refer to proven misconduct to arbitration or local authorities. The office does not have powers to compel testimony or documents from any corporation.

Access To Information records indicate at least one unnamed Canadian corporation in 2018 was blacklisted by Export Development Canada for unethical practices.

“To date this Corporate Social Responsibility trade sanction has been applied once,” said a memo from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

 

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