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.

Graham Allen: Bill offers Canada chance to deal with concerns raised by mining abroad

Here's an article in the Georgia Straight by fellow Vancouver AI BHR volunteer Graham Allen:
The Canadian government, in a March 2009 report, acknowledged it has a problem: “Within the wider community, increasing concerns have been raised about the human rights impacts of the activities of Canadian extractive companies with respect to their operations abroad.”

Liberal MP John McKay, on the day which his private member’s bill, Bill C-300, passed second reading, was more specific: “There are examples of Canadian corporations behaving badly in places like the Philippines and Guyana and as many as 30 other countries.”

If this is all true, what is Canada doing about it?

In a nutshell, the Canadian government started off well, then dropped the ball, and now has one good chance of doing the right thing.

Starting off well?

The governmental activity of recent years started with the June 2005 report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade entitled Mining in Developing Countries – Corporate Social Responsibility. This was followed by the momentous convening of four National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), “organized by a Steering Committee of Government of Canada officials working closely with an Advisory Group comprising persons drawn from industry, labour, the socially responsible investment community, civil society and academia”. This remarkable process culminated in the Advisory Group Report of March 29, 2007. Its central recommendation concerned the development of a Canadian CSR Framework:

Advisory Group members urge the Government of Canada, in cooperation with key stakeholders, to adopt a set of CSR Standards that Canadian extractive sector companies operating abroad are expected to meet and that is reinforced through appropriate reporting, compliance and other mechanisms.

There followed a series of recommendations, within six major components, in support of this objective. It was a golden moment for those concerned about Canada’s reputation in the developing world.

Dropping the ball?

In its March 2009 paper entitled Building the Canadian Advantage: A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector, Canada laid out its response to the national roundtables. It sought to promote what it called “widely-recognized international CSR performance guidelines with Canadian extractive companies operating abroad”. And it proposed setting up two new institutions: an Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor and a CSR Centre of Excellence “to encourage the Canadian international extractive sector to implement these voluntary performance guidelines by developing and disseminating high-quality CSR information, training and tools”. It was the word “voluntary” that was the problem.

In comparing Canada’s CSR strategy with the six components of the Advisory Group Report, professor Richard Janda of the faculty of law at McGill University found it to be “partially consistent” with three components and “not consistent” with three others—a disappointing outcome.

Again, McKay was more specific in his criticism of Canada’s response; he complained that the CSR counsellor is appointed by government, not independently, and could only investigate incidents with the approval of all parties, an obvious flaw. Moreover, voluntary guidelines had not proven to be adequate in the past. He was reported as saying: “Let’s be clear here. Canada has a choice. It can legislate a response, which would put Canada at the head of the class. Or it’s more business as usual, see no evil and hear no evil.”

Doing the right thing?

Bill C-300, mentioned above, explains its purpose in the following summary:

The purpose of this enactment is to promote environmental best practices and to ensure the protection and promotion of international human rights standards in respect of the mining, oil or gas activities of Canadian corporations in developing countries. It also gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Trade the responsibility to issue guidelines that articulate corporate accountability standards for mining, oil or gas activities...

Despite the significant limitation of a private member’s bill, that it cannot provide for the expenditure of public funds, Bill C-300, in Janda’s analysis, was “consistent” with two of the Advisory Group Report’s components, “partially consistent” with two others, and “not consistent” with two, thus being closer overall to the national roundtables. Professor Janda hence spoke favourably about Bill C-300, but concluded:

Indeed, if Bill C-300 were adopted, the CSR Counsellor’s role could be expanded and altered to fulfill functions under the legislation. Bill C-300 would then provide a legislative footing for that role.

Bill C-300 is presently at the committee stage before facing its third reading. If the government could be persuaded to support this bill—instead of claiming that its own CSR strategy is sufficient—Canada would be well-served. As said by Liberal MPMichael Savage in the House debate on Bill C-300:

As an international player, I am afraid we are not the gold standard anymore, but we can do better. We should do better. We should live up to the expectations that the people in this country have for us, and we should go beyond them.

If you are interested in supporting Bill C-300, you can take action via Amnesty International Canada’s Web site.h

AI Press Release: Cote d'Ivoire: Authorities must ensure toxic waste compensation reaches victims

From Amnesty International:
Amnesty International today urged the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire to ensure that $45 million compensation paid by the oil trading company Trafigura to victims of one of the worst toxic dumping scandals in recent years reaches the people to whom it is owed.

The compensation was agreed in the context of a court action brought by some 30,000 people against Trafigura in the High Court of England and Wales.

The organization has also written to UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw, urgently asking him to contact his counterpart in the Côte d’Ivoire and press for swift action to prevent a potentially massive fraud being perpetrated.

The call came as thousands of the victims of the illegal dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, wait anxiously to receive their money.

“There is a real risk that the victims of this waste dumping will never see the compensation they have been waiting so long to receive,” said Widney Brown, Senior Director at Amnesty International.

“The governments of Côte d’Ivoire and the UK must do everything in their power to ensure that this money is paid to the claimants listed in the court order – and prevent its misappropriation by corrupt figures.”

The $45 million compensation has been frozen in the bank account of the law firm representing the victims in the court case against Trafigura, the company accused of dumping the waste.

The freezing order was made after a man claiming his organization – the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d’Ivoire (CNVDT-CI) – represents the “real victims” said the money should be transferred into that organization’s bank account instead. This claim appears entirely false and has been refuted by the victim’s UK lawyers, as well as in a petition that is before the Ivorian courts by the other representatives of claimants in the UK court case.

The CNVDT-CI appears nowhere in any court documents related to the case or the settlement.

On 23 September, the High Court of England and Wales approved a settlement agreement between the victims of the toxic waste dumping, UK law firm Leigh Day & Co, and Trafigura. The agreement was that $45 million would be distributed by Leigh Day to the nearly 30,000 victims who had agreed to the deal, with each receiving about $1,600. The funds were transferred to an account in Côte d’Ivoire set up by Leigh Day for distribution to the victims.

On 22 October, Claude Gohourou, who claims his organization represents the victims, applied to a court in Abidjan to have the funds in the Leigh Day account frozen, which the court agreed to. Soon after, on 27 October, he applied for the money to be transferred to an account held by his own association.

Tomorrow, the Abidjan court is due to rule on his application.

“If the court in Côte d’Ivoire transfers the money into Mr Gohourou’s account, there is a very good chance that it will never be seen again,” said Widney Brown.

“We need an urgent intervention to prevent the victims of this tragic case from a double disaster. To have fought for three years for some measure of compensation for the terrible events of 2006, and then to see it stolen would be a travesty.”

Note to editors:
In August 2006, toxic waste was brought to Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire on board the ship Probo Koala, which had been chartered by Trafigura. This waste was then dumped in various locations around the city, causing a human rights tragedy. More than 100,000 people sought medical attention for a range of health problems and there were 15 reported deaths.


For further information, please contact:
Beth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations
416-363-9933, ext. 332