Note of appreciation from the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability #KAIROS20
The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) was formed in 2005 in response to the widespread harms linked to Canadian mining overseas experienced by communities, workers, individuals, and organizations around the world with whom Canadian civil society has strong connections. Organizations participating in the National Roundtables on Mining in Developing countries found value in coordinated engagement across civil society. Canadian organizations and unions were looking for an immediate response to stop and remedy these particular harms and for Canadian government action to prevent their repetition. These continue to be our priorities today. Our network has grown into a long-term movement – now counting 39 members – and our reach has expanded beyond mining to include other sectors, like the garment industry, where business harms linked to Canada are also widespread.
CNCA is so fortunate to have a plethora of dedicated, inspirational, and exceptionally talented members. It is through our member organizations that CNCA connects with impacted communities and workers around the world, develops effective strategies to reach decision-makers and mobilizes the people power needed to stand up to corporate power and to slow down corporate capture. KAIROS has been a vital member of the network since its inception. KAIROS is not only an active and devoted member with strong campaign capacity and subject matter expertise but also a key link to human rights and environmental defenders.
With a tiny staff and a structure that is based both on collective decision-making and on collective implementation of the CNCA’s work plan, all the network’s achievements and successes are because of our members’ active engagement.
When asked to write a short piece reflecting on KAIROS’ contribution to the CNCA’s work over the years, it was not at all hard to think of examples of how KAIROS has shaped the work of the network and reinforced the corporate accountability movement in Canada.
Here is just a small sample:
- Steering Committee membership: For around a decade, KAIROS was a member of the CNCA’s Steering Committee (SC) – for several years chairing that committee. CNCA SC members represent the perspectives of the broader membership in between member meetings, influence CNCA strategy, help implement the work plan, and serve as rotating network spokespeople with decision-makers, at media engagements and public events;
- Compelling communications: KAIROS has been a go to resource and support in all things communications. KAIROS staff has offered generous support and orientation to new CNCA staff members, actively participated in CNCA’s communications and campaigns working groups, contributed amazing visuals and graphics (including putting together this fabulous video for our fall 2020 virtual rally), frequently and proactively write and pitch hard-hitting op eds on key CNCA asks (a quick skim of the Hill Times op eds of recent years will give you a good sampling, a few top picks are here, here and here), have developed a powerful and comprehensive resource for and with women human rights defenders – the MERE hub – and it was KAIROS that facilitated the CNCA’s first ever TV interview – when we were invited to join KAIROS partners from the Philippines on TVO’s The Agenda.
- Direct connection to human rights and land defenders: KAIROS has long-standing partnerships and deep relationships with partners around the world. KAIROS partners have presented at high-level CNCA events, met with members of Parliament and Canadian government officials, testified at parliamentary committees and featured in partner videos. KAIROS has helped ensure that the voices of impacted communities are front and center in CNCA materials, strategy and programming and helped spur recent network discussions to further reflect on this engagement. KAIROS was one of several CNCA members who organized and participated in the International Gathering of Women Resisting Extractivism in Montreal in 2018 – that brought together Indigenous land defenders from around the world. That gathering was impactful on so many levels. What may not be as widely known is that after we organized a meeting between some of those defenders and the Minister of International Trade’s office, MINT staff cited that meeting as evidence to refute industry claims that mining harms are a thing of the past.
- Influencing decision-makers: In addition to its own engagement with decision-makers and mobilizing Canadians to contact their MPs, KAIROS has actively participated in CNCA engagement with decision-makers. Official letters and endorsements have included KAIROS’ signature and the Executive Director has travelled to Ottawa to participate in key meetings. In a vital – our very first – CNCA meeting with Minister Champagne, KAIROS’ leadership participated and spoke passionately and influentially about the deep concern for communities and defenders with whom KAIROS has relationships and who were facing risks because of their work to defend against corporate harm. We can’t discount how much that influenced the Minister to make a groundbreaking announcement in 2018 promising to create an independent ombudsperson office with real powers to investigate allegations of corporate abuse. When United Nations representatives engaged with Canadian civil society on the gendered impacts of business and human rights, KAIROS agreed (on the spot!) to kick off the conversation and share its influential work on the gendered impacts of mining.
- Important work outside the network’s activities: While the CNCA’s mandate is limited to the overseas impacts of Canadian corporate activity, many of our members, including KAIROS, do really important work to shine a light on and try to address corporate abuse that persists here in Canada. The CNCA is grateful for that work.
- Building and sustaining community, with integrity: Corporate accountability work is a long-term struggle, with often only incremental gains, as we are standing up to formidable corporate power and corporate capture. To keep going in this long-term struggle, human connections are so key. And my goodness, does KAIROS shine through in that department. This is both a day-to-day kindness and generosity, humour and consideration in interactions; an engagement with all partners and stakeholders with extreme integrity; and an ability to speak with passion and humanity even in stiff suit and tie events. The kind of integrity with which KAIROS operates was emphasized amidst the de-funding scandal in the Bev Oda / Harper years – when CIDA appeared to cut funding to organizations working on mining justice issues – and again during the Canada Revenue Agency “political activity audits” – when KAIROS was among a number of the charities who were audited who shared the characteristic that they undertook significant mining justice work. In both examples, KAIROS did not simply endure, they advocated for justice. That integrity and heart is also demonstrated in lighter ways. In 2017 when I went to meet KAIROS staff and a delegation of defenders from the Philippines to prepare for MP meetings, I walked into a multi-room hotel suite that housed the entire group (staff knew they would feel most comfortable all together) – with a kitchen filled with home-made Filipino food to feed the delegation for days to come – lovingly prepared by KAIROS staff prior to the delegation. The impact of those efforts on the defenders was palpable.
As mentioned above, KAIROS also shares the credit for the impacts of our collective work over the last 15 years.
- Greater awareness by Canadians of the human and environmental impacts that occur when powerful companies are able to operate with impunity;
- Strong commitment by a growing supporter base to long-term action on corporate accountability – a commitment that is sustained in large part by hearing directly from impacted communities and workers about their lived experience trying to defend their rights and their lands against big business, often backed by the Canadian state – and by providing tangible ways to take action ;
- Shifts in Canada’s narrative (the starting point has shifted from whether there is a problem of Canadian companies hurting people and the environment, to how best to respond; from whether Canada has international human rights obligations to protect people from corporate abuse, to whether Canada’s voluntary approach is adequate; and – without discounting the outrage we all feel from the Canadian government’s backtracking on its ombudsperson promise, we can acknowledge that we have moved the narrative from whether Canada needs an ombudsperson to investigate allegations of abuse, to what powers exactly the office needs to be effective and have created space to now also be asking for comprehensive human rights due diligence legislation that would require companies to prevent harm throughout their global operations and supply chains, and provides for liability and remedy if companies fail to fulfill that obligation);
- To some more intangible impacts – How much more would Canadian foreign policy prioritize economic interests over human rights if we weren’t shining a light? How much more harm would Canadian companies be implicated in if there wasn’t a strong movement for corporate accountability in Canada? and;
- We have built and continue to sustain a united, coordinated, civil society movement that is equipped with people power, integrity, flexibility and expertise – in strategic communications and mobilization campaigns, effective government relations, global connections, subject-matter and lived-experience expertise, as well as a deep understanding of how to develop legislative proposals and move them through the machinery of government.
So what more would we like to see of KAIROS in the next 20 years? Honestly, we hope that KAIROS will keep up the amazing work! We trust that KAIROS will continue to prioritize human rights defenders standing up to powerful corporations the world over. CNCA will also continue to – not so quietly – advocate for KAIROS’ return to the CNCA Steering Committee table. We really need you there. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on these years of collective action, for the important support that KAIROS – including staff, partners and supporters – provides to Canada’s movement for Rights for People and Rules for Business! and for the sense of community and humanity you bring to the table.
We look forward to standing with you in your next 20 years of reflection, solidarity and action! The t-shirts were right: KAIROS is *NOT!* going away, and our community is so grateful.
By Emily Dwyer, Coordinator, Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) .