ECOLOGICAL JUSTICE The struggle for a Canadian Ombudsperson

After nearly two decades of grassroots efforts from the part of civil society, labor unions, and religious groups—including KAIROS and network members—in support of corporate accountability of Canadian companies (energy, mining, and garment) operating abroad, the Government of Canada announced the creation of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Business Enterprise (CORE) and the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct Abroad (Advisory Board) in January 2018. The Ombudsperson, however, has not been granted the mandate to address, investigate, or remedy allegations of human rights and environmental abuses abroad.  

The CORE is a toothless initiative of the Government of Canada.    

According to the Government’s initial announcement, the office of the CORE would be independent and “mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporate activity abroad.” The Advisory Board’s purpose was to, among other things, advise the Government on corporate social responsibility and human rights. 
In April 2019, the Government announced the appointment of the Ombudsperson and revealed that the CORE would have no investigatory powers, effectively breaking its promise. The Government’s backtracking and unwillingness to use the Inquiries Act to grant the CORE investigatory powers led to the mass resignation of all fourteen civil society and labor union representatives of the Advisory Board over the summer of 2019. 
The CNCA supported an e-petition that called upon the House of Commons to empower the CORE and enact mandatory human rights due diligence legislation to strengthen the rules of business and uphold human rights. After the e-petition received more that 6,000 signatures, the CNCA, in the fall of 2020, held a virtual rally to symbolically deliver the e-petition to the House of Commons.  

In November 2020, it was revealed that the Government of Canada had made the decision to renege on its promise to grant the CORE investigatory powers.  

And early in 2021, it was revealed that the Government of Canada had concealed from the public a report outlining how it can grant CORE the autonomy and powers to investigate allegations of human rights abuses at the overseas operations of Canada-based companies. The McIsaac Report declares that the Canadian government has the jurisdiction to empower the CORE through the Inquiries Act or stand-alone legislation. Furthermore, the report states that without independence and investigative powers, including powers to compel documents and testimony, the CORE’s effectiveness may be compromised.   
The CORE’s office announced that it opened in the spring of 2021—with a limited mandate.  

Since the CORE’s office does not have investigatory powers, KAIROS recommends that any organization, community, group, or individual thinking about filing a complaint with CORE, first consult the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability’s (CNCA) “Approach With Caution” document, which is available in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. 

In 2021, Canada’s international human rights parliamentary subcommittee launched a study on the mandate of the CORE. The Subcommittee’s report, which was published in June, goes far beyond commenting on the CORE’s ineffectiveness. The conclusions and recommendations also confront Canada’s exclusive reliance on voluntary measures to address Canadian corporate abuse overseas. 

The Subcommittee issued one consensus recommendation: 

the Government of Canada must introduce legislation requiring Canadian corporations to conduct human rights due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for any potential adverse human rights, environmental and gendered impacts they may cause throughout their supply chains and operations. 

It is clear: Canada must pass mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation.

KAIROS is advocating for both mHREDD legislation and an empowered Ombudsperson. 

As such, KAIROS continues call for the Government of Canada to address corporate misconduct of the Canadian extractive sector abroad through an independent Ombudsperson with the full powers to investigate allegations of human rights and environmental abuses overseas. 

KAIROS is a member of the CNCA, which works tirelessly to ensure that Canadian companies respect human rights and the environment when working abroad. The CNCA advocates for policy and law reform, monitors government policy and provides advice to ensure that both government and business uphold Canada’s international human rights and environmental commitments. 

Visit the CNCA’s Take Action page to learn how you can make a difference.  

For more on KAIROS’ work on corporate accountability, visit Women of Courage: Gendered Impacts of Resource Extraction Overview on the KAIROS website and Mother Earth and Resource Extraction: Women Defending Land and Water (or, MERE Hub), a digital hub on gendered impacts of resource extraction.

Banner Photo: Thomas Lardeau – Unsplash

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