As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70, Canadians and impacted communities around the world call on Canada to meaningfully implement its commitments. Ten months ago Canada committed to create a Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise to independently investigate alleged human rights abuses associated with Canadian companies around the globe.
In the 70 years since the Declaration was adopted, key advances have been made in recognizing the importance of social and economic rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, children, and the environment and the need to address corporate involvement in human rights abuses.
Despite the advances in rights recognition, corporate abuse continues, and accountability mechanisms are scarce.
Communities around the world continue to be harmed by Canadian companies
Canadian companies have been implicated in serious human rights abuses in virtually every corner of the world. Rape, serious bodily harm, use of forced labour and killing are among the listed causes of action in a series of lawsuits currently making their way through Canadian courts.
Calls mount for action in Canada
Over the last decade, human rights expert bodies at the United Nations have repeatedly called on Canada to take meaningful steps to prevent abuse and to ensure access to effective remedy for those harmed by the global operations of Canadian companies. Most recently, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights called on the Canadian government to take substantive action in holding Canadian companies accountable for rights abuses and develop effective mechanisms for redress.
Over 500,000 Canadians have joined the campaign for an independent ombudsperson. So too, have more than 50 Canadian organisations from a broad range of sectors including labour, environment, human rights, faith-based, and international development.
Letters from around the world have continued to pour in. Today, 240 people from 56 countries sent an urgent appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to immediately appoint an effective independent ombudsperson so desperately needed by impacted communities.
Canada must make good on its commitment
In January 2018, the federal government announced the creation of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE). Importantly, the announcement included that the ombudsperson would be independent and would have the mandate, the budget, and the powers needed to undertake independent investigations, including the power to compel documents and summon witnesses. The government announced that the office would publicly report and have the power to make and monitor recommendations for remedy, harm prevention, and policy and legal reform.
Eleven months since the announcement, however, and there has been no appointment and little clarity on how effective the office will be.
It’s been 70 years since Canada signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights. This International Human Rights Day, Canada needs to make good on its January commitment: appoint an ombudsperson for responsible enterprise and grant them the necessary powers to uphold Canada’s international human rights obligation to prevent and remedy corporate human rights abuses.