ECOLOGICAL JUSTICE The Corporate Respect for Human Rights & the Environment Abroad Act

Canada must enact mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation (mHREDD), which Canada’s international human rights parliamentary subcommittee has recommended. Due diligence means that Canadian companies operating abroad—as well as companies selling goods in Canada—and their business partners would be required to undergo a process to identify risks, consult rights holders, and outline how they would not cause human rights and environmental harm. Several countries in Europe have already enacted or are in the process of developing human rights due diligence legislation.  

In May 2021, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) released draft mHREDD model legislation. KAIROS, a member of the CNCA, endorses the Corporate Respect for Human Rights and the Environment Abroad Act 

The Corporate Respect for Human Rights and the Environment Abroad Act would: 

  1. Establish a corporate duty on companies linked to Canada to prevent human rights abuse and environmental harms. 
  1. Require companies to conduct due diligence and publicly report on the steps taken to prevent human rights and environmental harms. 
  1. Include significant consequences for companies that cause harm and/or fail to conduct due diligence. 

To learn more about The Corporate Respect for Human Rights and the Environment Abroad Act, read the CNCA’s executive summary and infographic.  

While the campaign in support of the Corporate Respect for Human Rights and the Environment Abroad Act will launch in the fall of 2021, you can take action now. The CNCA has prepared an Activist Toolkit accessible though Google Docs for those already interested in contacting their Member of Parliament. 

For years, KAIROS and networks along with other Canadian civil society actors have been calling for mandatory legislation and measures to hold Canadian companies accountable. The Government of Canada has voluntary measures in place that Canadian companies are expected but not required to meet. These initiatives have been proven to be ineffective in preventing harm. Few companies and their partners, such as subsidiaries, face consequences for the negative impacts they generate globally.   

While the office of the Canadian Ombusperson for Responsible Business Enterprise (CORE) is in operation since early 2021, the Ombudsperson’s mandate is limited. The CORE is a mediation entity and as such, does not have the powers to investigate allegations of human rights or environmental violations committed by Canadian companies abroad.  

What is needed at this moment are multiple and complementary legally-binding measures that require companies, their supply chains, and their business partners to prevent and avoid causing harm to people and the environment; and if these companies or any of their partners violate internationally recognized human rights and/or the environment, they must be held liable and provide remedy. 

Over 150 groups, including KAIROS global partners, representing affected communities in more than 32 countries have endorsed the Corporate Respect for Human Rights and the Environment Abroad Act.  

Global partners report of harms caused by extractive companies linked to Canada, such as: water shortages and contamination, deforestation, structural damage to physical buildings, and an increase in violence against environmental rights defenders. And corporate misconduct has differential impacts. 

The links between the extractive sector and gender-based violence have been more than proven. Indigenous and Afro-descendant women, gender diverse people, and children living near extractive projects experience the numerous social, health, environmental, economic, and political impacts most acutely. Women environmental human rights defenders—who are on the forefront of land and water protection—are routinely harassed, targeted, attacked, and even murdered for their efforts. 

Women, gender diverse people, children, and communities impacted by Canadian corporate wrongdoing abroad have no guaranteed access to remedy or justice in Canada. 

For more on the intersection of Indigenous rights, gender and ecological justice, and corporate accountability, please visit Mother Earth and Resource Extraction: Women Defending Land and Water—MERE Hub, for short. MERE Hub is a living digital resource hub that supports women human rights defenders and recognizes both their achievements and the challenges they face in the protection of land and water. 

Banner Photo: Guillaume Techer – Unsplash

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