Where is the Canadian government on due diligence legislation and a Binding Treaty on transnational corporations?

Published by Brent Patterson on

The lack of a legal, enforceable framework to hold Canadian-based transnational corporations responsible for identifying, preventing and mitigating the human rights impacts of their business activities is an ongoing concern.

Beyond guidelines and principles, there is a global call for binding national and international laws that would prevent human rights abuses by transnationals.

The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability has observed: “A growing number of jurisdictions worldwide are acknowledging the failure of voluntary initiatives to curb corporate abuse and have either enacted or are currently examining legislation to hold companies legally accountable when their operations cause harm.”

Most recently, on July 27, Trócaire, the official overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, stated: “The new Programme for [the Irish] Government commits to review whether there is a need for greater emphasis on mandatory due diligence in relation to business and human rights.”

Trócaire adds: “France has a law to ensure corporations respect human rights and the environment in all their overseas operations. A range of other European countries look to be following suit. The European Commission has [also] committed to legislation that would protect human rights and the environment [through due diligence].”

And Equal Times notes: “A bill has already been tabled in Switzerland but is stuck at parliamentary level. The situation is similar in Germany, where environmentalist and leftist parties have been pushing for legislation. Although their legislative proposals have not prospered, the German government has not ruled out presenting a bill in the future.”

The CNCA has previously called on the Canadian government “to learn from these experiences abroad and enact comprehensive and mandatory human rights due diligence legislation that … includes meaningful consequences for non-compliance, including liability for harm and effective enforcement mechanisms.”

In response to a CNCA questionnaire, the NDP and to some degree the Green Party appear supportive of mandatory due diligence legislation that would also prevent Canadian embassies and Export Development Canada from supporting Canadian corporations linked to human rights abuses in other countries.

Unfortunately, the governing Liberal Party did not respond to the questionnaire.

The mixed results in France suggest that achieving due diligence legislation requires both a long campaign and ongoing vigilance – but that it is worthwhile.

Concurrently, PBI-Canada also supports the call for a binding global UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights.

Equal Times reports: “Progress is, however, very slow, with countries such as the United States, Russia, China and Brazil doing everything they can to block the process.”

PBI-Colombia accompanied Yessika Hoyos from the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) has also commented: “Many companies together with the states have been blocking this issue. They haven’t allowed for a Treaty to be created.”

And Oxfam Canada has noted: “Canadian government officials have been largely absent from the process so far.”

While Trócaire has launched a “Build Back Better” campaign that is calling for due diligence and a Binding Treaty to be part of the COVID-19 recovery planning, that momentum has not yet appeared in Canada.

That said, on the immediate horizon a draft of the Binding Treaty will be discussed at the 6th session of intergovernmental negotiations on October 26-30 in Geneva.

Globally, Peace Brigades International entities support the call for both due diligence legislation and a UN Binding Treaty.

Photo by Adrian Wyld.

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