Thursday, January 20, 2011

Amnesty criticizes UN Framework on CSR

I've been following the debate between John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, and Amnesty International regarding the proposed principles for a UN framework on corporate social responsibility. Below is a letter Ruggie submitted to the Financial Times, followed by a response from Amnesty.

Sir, Hugh Williamson reports that Amnesty International and some other pressure groups fear that adoption of a proposed set of guiding principles for implementing the United Nations “protect, respect and remedy” framework in the area of business and human rights “risks undermining efforts to strengthen corporate responsibility”, and that “the current draft should not be adopted by the Human Rights Council” (“Amnesty criticises UN framework for multinationals”, January 17). This is bizarre on several counts.

First, these same organisations keep telling the world that there are currently no global standards in the area of business and human rights, causing both governments and business enterprises to fall far short of desired practices. In contrast, the UN framework and guiding principles elevate standards of conduct significantly.

Second, these same organisations use the UN framework constantly as a basis for criticising the performance of companies, governments and international agencies – so how inadequate and unacceptable could its implementation possibly be?

Third, Amnesty and the others would have a lot to answer for if they actually were to oppose Human Rights Council endorsement of this hard-won initiative. In 2004, they heavily promoted a scheme for regulating companies that had no champions among governments and triggered the vehement and unified opposition of the business community. What was the result?

Victims of corporate-related human rights harm, for whom these organisations claim to speak, got nothing. Now, seven years later, we have a proposal on the table that enjoys broad support from governments, business associations, individual companies, as well as a wide array of civil society and workers’ organisations.

Do Amnesty and the others really urge its defeat – delivering “nothing” to victims yet again? How much longer will they ask victims to wait in the name of some abstract and elusive global regulatory regime when practical results are achievable now?

John Ruggie,

UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights,

Cambridge, MA, US

Here's the response from Amnesty:

Sir, John Ruggie’s letter (January 19) in response to Hugh Williamson’s article “Amnesty criticises UN framework for multinationals” (January 17) is surprising on several counts.

At Amnesty International our researchers regularly investigate human rights abuses committed by corporations. We work with victims – from the Niger Delta to India, Netherlands to Papua New Guinea. We campaign for their rights and work with them to seek reparations. We do not believe the draft guiding principles effectively protect victims’ rights or ensure their access to reparations.

Let’s be frank – the real opposition to effective guiding principles does not come from Amnesty International but from business interests. The draft guiding principles enjoy broad support from business, precisely because they require little meaningful action by business.

Prof Ruggie has acknowledged that governments often fail to regulate companies effectively, and that companies working in many countries evade accountability and proper sanctions when they commit human rights abuses. The fundamental challenge was how to address these problems. His draft guiding principles fail to meet this challenge. Amnesty International believes they must be strengthened.

We have offered constructive advice, based on years of investigative experience, to help the process. We will continue to do so.

Widney Brown,

Senior Director for International Law and Policy,

Amnesty International

Saturday, June 12, 2010

DRC article in The Guardian

I came across an article about the DRC today in The Guardian. Very interesting article by the way, written by a woman battling cancer, and her determination to heal herself mentally and physcially at least partly by advocating for people living in the DRC. Anyway, I came across a comment that i just had to respond to, stating that there is no corporate complicity in the atrocities committed there. I've pasted below my response.

I'm glad I stumbled across this thread. As a volunteer with Amnesty International's Business & Human Rights Campaign, I can assure you that there is a ton of evidence of corporate complicity in human rights in the atrocities in the DRC over the last several years. Here are just a few reports I found after searching for an hour.

Western governments are complicit as well, because they have the ability to legislate mandatory standards that would hold to account companies from their country, but they by and large have been hesitant to do so.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Introducing CSR Tube

You've heard of You Tube. Well, here's CSR Tube. From their 'About' page:
CSRtube is the first global media platform dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issues. CSRtube is an initiative of the Dutch MVO Platform (CSR Platform) and lokaalmondiaal. To inspire and discuss.

The aim of CSRtube is to increase the impact of the work of civil society organizations, research institutions, governments, and companies dealing with CSR issues. CSRtube intends to contribute to the debate around CSR, and to inform people about its developments. Citizens and civil society organizations from all over the world are invited to upload and share their video material on CSRtube. Get inspired by initiatives that promote CSR. Learn to make videos and be able to contribute with your CSR initiatives. Tell your story to a wider audience, share it, and contribute to changing the world. See it, film it, share it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Georgia Straight article on Bill C-300

From the Straight:

Simon Child has never been to Africa, but that hasn't stopped the Grade 11 student at Semiahmoo secondary school from trying to improve the human-rights situation on the continent. Child, director of outreach and advocacy with the nonprofit Africa Canada Accountability Coalition, says one way to accomplish this is to force Canadian corporations to act more responsibly in Africa. In a phone interview with theGeorgia Straight, Child said this is particularly true in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo where several Canadian mining companies operate.

Human-rights groups have tried to draw attention to massive human-rights violations of women in two eastern provinces of the DRC, where warring government and rebel forces have been involved in mass rape. Child pointed out that minerals from the DRC are key components of cellphones, iPods, and other electronic gadgets used by youths, and that the Congolese people will benefit if those resources are mined in the most ethical manner possible. “The first step to doing that is getting our government to make sure they're keeping an eye on these mining companies working in a place that has been called the rape capital of the world,” he said.

This is one reason why ACAC and other human-rights groups are strongly supporting Bill C-300, a private member's bill introduced by Liberal MP John McKay. The bill has passed second reading and is now being studied by the Commons foreign affairs and international development committee. If it becomes law, mining and oil-and-gas companies will be required to act in a manner that is consistent with international human-rights standards to qualify for assistance from Export Development Canada, which is a Crown corporation. In addition, the bill would prohibit the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board from investing in mining and oil-and-gas companies that don't respect human rights.

“Mining companies do not like having this reputation of being human-rights abusers,” Child said. “So if we get this bill, we can know who is doing good and who is doing bad. We could clear the air.”

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International's Canadian office, told theStraight in a recent interview that governments and companies have long maintained that voluntary standards are the best way to deal with corporate human-rights violations in other countries. “We've always said that voluntary isn't enough,” he said.

Neve noted that in 2006, the federal government launched a consultation process involving industry officials, academics, and human-rights organizations to address corporate conduct abroad. He said that it produced a “remarkable consensus report”, which proposed several steps to enhance human rights. He said the groups waited two years for the government's response, which he described as a “profound disappointment”.

“We need to get some clear human-rights standards developed,” Neve added. “We need to have a meaningful complaint process that would oversee this, and we need to have some real sanctions to ensure that when companies are acting out and not complying with these human-rights standards, there are sanctions—whether that is losing certain forms of government financial assistance or other measures.”

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of B.C., told the Straightin a phone interview that his industry supports the creation of an ombudsman's office to review corporations' human-rights records. However, he said that an ombudsman should also have authority to investigate nongovernmental organizations. He added that the consensus report proposed an ombudsman's office to provide more discreet oversight than what McKay's bill calls for. “The ombuds' function was to provide a mechanism into looking into matters and attempting to provide solutions,” Gratton said, adding that punitive actions should only be considered as a last resort.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Toronto Star editorial on Bill C-300

The Toronto Star has come out in support of Bill C-300:
Canada's mining, oil and gas firms think of themselves as good offshore citizens. Certainly, they are a rich source of overseas jobs, wages, royalties and social benefits. Barrick Gold Corp., for example, ploughed $8 billion back into host communities in 2008, employing 19,000 people at mines in Canada, the United States and a half-dozen other countries. It built roads, schools, clinics and more.

But Canadian firms in Mexico, El Salvador, Ecuador, Congo, India, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea have come under fire since 2000 for violent clashes with anti-mining activists, for allegedly damaging the environment, for uprooting small-scale farmers and for other shortcomings, as the Star's Brett Popplewell has reported.

This is notoriety the industry doesn't need.

In Ottawa today, the Commons foreign affairs committee will meet to consider a private member's bill introduced by Toronto Liberal MP John McKay that would have Ottawa tighten scrutiny of mining companies' offshore operations.

McKay's bill would put offshore firms on notice by empowering Ottawa to set corporate social responsibility standards and to create a complaints mechanism. A study group commissioned by the previous Liberal government went further and urged the naming of an ombudsman to police the sector. These are ideas Parliament has good reason to examine.

The industry opposes stricter oversight, warning that it may create friction with host governments, generate "legal uncertainty," put our firms at a disadvantage, and deter investment. That argues for commonsense in drafting standards and weighing performance.

But companies that behave as good corporate citizens should have little to fear from McKay's bill, or from an ombudsman. Getting an official Ottawa stamp of approval would certify that a firm is doing its best to manage inevitable social and environmental risks. That would enhance its stature abroad, and put critics on the defensive. It's hard to see how that would be bad for business.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AI Film Festival - Vancouver

The Amnesty International Film Festival in Vancouver starts with a gala tomorrow night, featuring The Yes Men Fix the World, where a group of men dress up in suits to parody certain corporate executives with no sense of social responsibility. Please find the entire festival schedule here.