Business monitoring | Groups call on Ottawa to strengthen CORE’s powers

(Ottawa) Human rights advocates are calling on Ottawa to fundamentally change the powers of the watchdog that oversees Canadian companies operating abroad, as the federal government considers how a new ombudsman should handle the role. function.

“We have communities experiencing human rights and environmental abuses due to the activities of Canadian companies outside of Canada,” said Karen Hamilton, director of the advocacy group Above Ground.

The Trudeau government replaced a mining sector watchdog five years ago with what it called the Canadian Ombudsman for Corporate Responsibility (CORE).

Initially, the Liberals said the watchdog would have the power to demand documents and testimony, but the government left those powers outside of CORE’s mandate when it launched in 2019.

He also limited the body’s work to the mining, oil and clothing sectors, although he described its role as having a broader mandate.

The first ombudsman, Sheri Meyerhoffer, completed her five-year term on schedule last week. In her report, she explained that her inability to obtain documents and testimony prevented her from holding Canadian companies accountable.


The first ombudsman, Sheri Meyerhoffer

Global Affairs Canada announced that one of its lawyers, Masud Husain, would replace her on an interim basis. But Trade Minister Mary Ng’s office later said he would be M’s full Meyerhoffer following an official cabinet order.

Ottawa also announced a review of the position, saying it would decide next week whether to change its scope. It’s an opportunity to go beyond “half measures” and give bite to the role, believes Mme Hamilton.

“If we don’t improve the OCRE, we will spend a lot of money in an organization that does not do much when it has the potential,” she believes.

His group is part of the Canadian Network on Corporate Responsibility, which has argued for years that Ottawa must give this “watchdog” the ability to demand documents and testimony and expand its mandate beyond mining, oil and clothing sectors. Mme Meyerhoffer herself has advocated for such powers.

“The government can and must better equip the OCRE so that it can fulfill its mandate. The ombudsman must be able to find out why and how companies are not fulfilling their responsibilities. We need to hear it directly from their mouths and share this information with the public,” argued Mme Meyerhoffer.

The agency only launched its first investigations last summer and closed only one case, in March, revealing that a Vancouver company had not done enough to prevent possible slave labor in China.

“Necessary powers”

Liberal MP John McKay publicly confronted Mme Ng in 2021 on why his government had given up on allowing the former ombudsman to demand evidence. He now hopes that the Trudeau government will include “these necessary powers”.

A few days before ending his mandate, Meyerhoffer also convinced activists to withdraw their complaint accusing Hugo Boss of forced labor. She wrote that announcement of her investigation led to informal mediation, during which the company “provided a satisfactory response or remedy,” but did not provide further details.

It also announced a development in its investigation against Canadian mining company GobiMin Inc., which sold its assets in China’s Xinjiang region, where there were allegations of forced labor of Uyghurs “to a buyer who agreed publicly to respect international human rights.

Mme Hamilton believes, however, that the government cannot rely on businesses to make the right decisions.

“If you can’t force companies to produce testimony and documents, many companies won’t engage in a meaningful way. »


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