Alex Neve, The Hill Times, October 11, 2010
Link: Bill C-300: Strengthened human rights accountability in the Canadian extractive sector is in everyone’s interest
Bill C-300, soon to come to a vote in the House of Commons, is an important step toward improved corporate accountability for Canadian mining, oil and gas companies that operate overseas. It is true that many Canadian companies are already abiding by international human rights standards and environmental best practice; Bill C-300 will not affect those companies. Bill C-300 will only affect Canadian mining, oil and gas companies that contribute to human rights abuses and badly degrade the environment in developing countries.
Writing recently in the Hill Times in his capacity as CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, John Manley argues that “in an era when a ‘national brand’ is increasingly important, Bill C-300 can only tarnish Canada’s well-deserved reputation for good corporate citizenship.” The truth, however, is that Canada’s reputation has already been tarnished by the poor human rights practices of some Canadian mining, oil and gas companies that operate overseas. Passing Bill C-300 would help to restore our national reputation by demonstrating that Canada takes human rights seriously and we do not apply a double standard when it comes to acceptable human rights conduct at home and abroad. Indeed, if Canadian companies were to lead the way in respect for human rights, it could only enhance our “brand” and bring more business to Canadian companies.
Mr. Manley also worries that the “burden” imposed by Bill C-300 on Canada’s mining industry could result in Canadian companies losing business to corporations based in countries that have weaker human rights and environmental standards. Using the same logic, it could be reasoned that Canadian companies should be allowed to operate sweatshops so that we can be more competitive in the global marketplace. Fortunately, however, I believe that most Canadians would prefer to see Canada standing strong for international human rights principles; rather than participating in a race to the bottom.
Over and over again, voluntary corporate social responsibility standards have proven to be inadequate. Some companies choose to adopt the voluntary standards, but others do not. And since voluntary standards lack monitoring and enforcement, when a Canadian company becomes complicit in human rights abuses in a developing country, there is often no investigation or recourse, and no justice or remedy for the victims. As a result, there is little incentive for a company to improve.
We have laws for crimes such as tax evasion. We also have laws that apply to transnational companies regarding bribery and child trafficking. We need to extend legislation to include human rights standards for transnational companies, because respect for human rights cannot be considered voluntary, any more than slavery or sweatshops are considered optional in Canada.
Bill C-300 is an excellent opportunity for Canada to demonstrate leadership in human rights once again. Approximately three-quarters of the world’s mining and exploration companies are headquartered in Canada. We are a global leader. Other countries are looking to Canada to set the bar. If we demonstrate leadership and pass Bill C-300, it will lift the bar for other countries, and human rights around the world will benefit.
Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
(Reprinted with permission of the Hill Times, Oct 11, 2010)