D&P hopes Canadian mining companies will be held accountable for their records in overseas investments. CNS photo/Ezra Fieser, Reuters

D&P hopeful, but wary, of federal corporate responsibility policy

By 
  • November 27, 2014

A relaunched corporate social responsibility policy for Canadian mining companies has Development and Peace hopeful that Canadian companies will be held accountable for their environmental, labour and community investment records in Latin America, Africa and Asia. 

That hope, however, is tempered by the record of an ineffective Office of the Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor over the past five years, said Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in-Canada program co-director Ryan Worms. 

The federal government announced Nov. 14 it would withdraw economic supports normally offered through embassies and high commissions and the economic assistance of agencies such as Export Development Canada from Canadian mining and oil and gas companies that fail to play ball with Ottawa’s corporate social responsibility policies. 

“It’s a step forward in a good direction,” said Worms. 

But given that the previous CSR Counsellor failed to conclude any of the six cases referred to her for mediation, and that the office has stood empty for more than a year since Marketa Evans resigned, Development and Peace remains cautious about the new policy. It is unclear whether a new CSR Counsellor will have any powers of investigation, or whether the process will be transparent, said Worms. 

“It will really depend on the mandate of the CSR Counsellor,” Worms said. 

Canadian companies are major players in global mining, accounting for almost half of the world’s mining and mineral exploration. Canadian companies have investments in more than 8,000 mining properties in more than 100 countries. Combined with oil and gas, the extractive sector generated over $130 billion in 2013 — 27 per cent of the total value of Canadian exports. While natural resources produce almost 20 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product, natural resources only provide about 10 per cent of Canada’s jobs. 

Development and Peace did not get the independent ombudsman it had sought. 

In May a Development and Peace campaign delivered 80,000 postcards to Parliament Hill demanding an independent ombudsman and tougher action on rogue mining companies that ignore aboriginal communities, poison water sources, degrade the environment or otherwise fail to contribute while doing business abroad. The campaign was part of a broader effort by Canadian NGOs to apply Canadian standards to Canadian companies when they operate in poor countries. 

In a Vancouver speech, International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced Ottawa would make its “economic diplomacy” conditional on a company’s alignment with its new corporate social responsibility policy. The new policy also formally incorporates Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development standards for multinational enterprises into its expectations for Canadian miners abroad. 

“We will continue to monitor the activities (of Canadian miners) through our partners in the global south,” said Worms. 

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