Friday, May 29, 2009

Vue Weekly: BILL C-300: A step forward on CSR

From Edmonton's Vue Weekly, an article from Marie-Claude Poirer of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, in support of Bill C-300.  Here's an excerpt: 

Despite a series of consultations with industry and civil society in 2006, the Canadian government only recently responded to the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Development Countries. These roundtables were tasked with identifying opportunities to address the growing number of environmental and social conflicts created by Canadian oil, gas and mineral companies operating overseas, but the Canadian government's latest CSR strategy does nothing more than endorse current CSR standards and create administrative mechanisms, rather than legal ones, within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and at Canadian offices abroad.

With none of the original 27 recommendations from the multistakeholder roundtables being implemented, Canadians have begun sounding the alarm. Grassroots campaigns were held nationwide as sympathizers began to mobilize for the cause, and hundreds of thousands of Canadians have signed petitions calling for change.

The members of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) are among the forerunners in issuing this call. On May 12, 2009, CCODP delivered 38 boxes filled with postcards addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Signed by more than 140 000 supporters, this petition called on the Canadian government to hold Canadian mining companies accountable through legal mechanisms. The total number of cards and letters they have delivered to the prime minister in the last three years is now well over half a million.

And members of the CCODP haven't stopped there. They are throwing their support behind Bill C-300, an Act on Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries. Tabled by Liberal MP for Scarborough-Guildwood Hon. John McKay, the private member's bill imposes tighter controls on the provision of government support to the Canadian extractive companies. It limits eligibility for this support to those complying with environmental, social and human rights standards, such as services provided by Export Development Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and not unlike the Norwegian Council on Ethics, the investments made by the Canada Pension Plan in Canadian mining companies.

Regrettably, Bill C-300 doesn't include provisions for an ombudsperson and independent investigation into complaints from overseas, since private member's bills cannot require the support of a budget. As an alternative, complaints would be directed to the Minister of International Trade and Foreign Affairs, and an investigation into whether or not a violation of CSR standards occurred would follow. The results of these investigations could mean bad PR for Canadian mining giants caught violating international human rights standards. While not perfect, the bill 
is an important step forward on social responsibility for Canadian companies.

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