Announcement by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade, concerning the creation of a Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise (CORE)

Speech

January 17, 2018 – Ottawa, Ontario

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Hello, everyone.

Thank you for coming, and for people­­ who are online, thank you for listening. ­

Let me start by welcoming a few of the special guests.

Dr. John Ruggie has flown up from Boston to be here. He is a Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. John has very been generous to me over the last year with his advice and hard-earned wisdom on business and human rights, which is the topic of today’s announcement.

Also joining me is my good friend Mr. Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Hassan has graciously educated me on how our government can best advance the rights of workers around the world and what an opportunity Canada has right now to take a leadership role.

Those of you who have followed developments in Canada’s CSR [corporate social responsibility] policy over the years—and there are many of you here—know how long a road it has been to arrive at [where we are] today.

And so I would be remiss if I didn’t especially thank my colleague John McKay, the Member [of Parliament (MP)] for Scarborough-Guildwood. John has been a tireless advocate for CSR for over a decade.

I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development for their work on this issue and most recently by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which is chaired by Michael Levitt, the MP for York Centre.

I would like to the thank Canada’s current CSR Counsellor for the Extractive Sector, Jeffrey Davidson, for his diligent work in the position for the last three years.

I also send greetings from my Cabinet colleagues Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development. They are not able to be here today, but have been close partners in developing the government’s new approaches to supporting responsible business conduct abroad.

I am delighted to be able to announce some good news.

As you know, our government is implementing a progressive trade agenda.

Canada’s progressive trade agenda is focused on opening more doors, raising standards and positioning the middle class for success.

We are the one of the most diverse and open countries on earth. A progressive trade agenda not only reflects our values, but has economic value too.

When global investors look to position their future investments and capital, they want stability, predictability and a strong commitment to the rule of law. That’s Canada.

The progressive trade agenda is not only the right thing to do, it makes economic sense.

That includes Canada’s strong commitment to responsible business conduct and the respect for human rights of workers and local stakeholders in Canada and around the world.

This program is based on the idea that trade and investment are primarily aimed at improving the quality of life of citizens.

We need to make sure that this idea takes shape here in Canada, but also reflected abroad.

Our concept of progressive trade is not just about the value of trade and investment, but also about respecting the fundamental rights of citizens abroad!It is in this spirit that I am delighted to announce today that our government is creating a Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, or CORE, to help reflect our core values in the world and to deliver on our progressive trade agenda.

We told Canadians during the election that we would do this. We are now moving forward.

Canada will be the first country in the world to have an ombudsperson for responsible enterprise.

The ombudsperson will be mandated to independently investigate allegations of human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company’s activity abroad.

The CORE will seek to assist wherever possible in collaboratively resolving disputes or conflicts between impacted communities and Canadian companies.

It [CORE] will be empowered to report independently, recommend a remedy and monitor its implementation.

Through this process, the ombudsperson will offer people a straightforward, credible and fair remedy.

The CORE will be empowered to make recommendations such as for compensation, corporate policy changes and apologies, where appropriate.

The ombudsperson will also have the power to recommend withdrawal of trade advocacy support and Export Development Canada financial support, should a company not be acting in good faith, as well as recommend changes to government policy.

The Ombusdperson has the power to publish records and reports at various stages of the investigation process. They will assume a supervisory function. This will, for example, ensure that the various recommendations are implemented. I emphasize that the ombudsperson acts independently to carry out their mandate with their own funding.

Now, I want to take a moment and put today’s announcement in a wider context for all of you who have been working on, debating and advocating for an ombudsperson for so long.

And let me start by acknowledging the unflagging efforts of a very broad coalition of Canadian civil society organizations to make this a reality, led by Emily Dwyer of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability.

Some of you know that I have past experience in the private sector, including as an executive in the extractives sector. What this experience taught me, and which the guidance I’ve received from John and Hassan has reinforced, is two things.

The first is that responsible business conduct is not just an ethical imperative, it is an economic imperative. No company can operate successfully on a sustained commercial basis in the world today without policies and practices in place to ensure adherence to the highest human rights standards. This is simply a fact.

Second, Canadian companies have an enormous advantage in this regard. To fly the maple leaf means something. It means being associated with a set of values based on dignity, respect, diversity and tolerance. And it means a commitment to inclusive and sustainable economic growth where the benefits are shared by the many, not the few.

This in an extraordinary brand to have in the world today: it conveys extraordinary commercial advantage. But it also comes with extraordinary responsibilities.

And I want to applaud the Canadian extractives sector for stepping up to the challenge. An excellent example of this is the Mining Association of Canada’s initiative called Towards Sustainable Mining, spearheaded by Pierre Gratton and his colleagues.

It is also why I have sought in the creation of this new ombudsperson something that is “best in class.” I am adamant that Canada be second to none when it comes to business and human rights.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that advancing a progressive trade agenda is about a march to the top, not a race to the bottom.

We live in an imperfect world where global governance gaps remain.

Canadian companies operate in many countries where there is great benefit to local economies and communities. However, some of these countries may still lack the legal and regulatory guarantees we enjoy in Canada.

Canada is determined to be at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the global rules-based order.

We all know we won’t get there overnight. But I believe that the creation of the CORE is an important step in the right direction.

To this end, it is essential that Canadian companies understand that full cooperation in good faith with the CORE is not optional.

This is the government’s expectation. And it is my expectation.

While I am confident that for the vast majority of companies this will be the case, I have heard the concerns that there could at some point be a company that refuses to fully engage. And that this could damage the strong Canadian brand we all gain from.

This also concerns me, because it is my job to promote that brand and also to protect it.

So I am also committing today to ensuring that the ombudsperson has all the tools required to ensure compliance in the hopefully very rare circumstances where a company is not fully and appropriately cooperating.

To support the government in developing the CORE’s mandate and operating procedures to this end, I am also pleased to announce the establishment of a multi-stakeholder advisory body on responsible business conduct.

The advisory body will bring together expertise and diverse views, including from business and civil society, to counsel the government on how Canada can stay at the forefront of supporting business and human rights.

I am delighted that Dr. Ruggie has agreed to be the body’s honorary chair.

I am also delighted to announce that the following organizations have agreed be advisory body members:

  • Mining Association of Canada
  • Prospectors and Developers Canada
  • Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
  • Amnesty International
  • Development and Peace
  • Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability
  • Association québécoise pour la cooperation internationale
  • Canadian Labour Congress
  • United Steelworkers
  • Jerry Asp, Founder, Tahltan Nation Development Corp (Indigenous rep)
  • John Ruggie  ‎(Honourary Chair)

Let me conclude by once again emphasizing the government’s intent through today’s announcement.

We will now strengthen the reputation of Canadian companies as international business partners of choice, while helping ensure that our progressive trade agenda delivers on its commitment to ensure that trade and investment benefit everyone.

Thank you.


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