Photo: Representatives of CNCA member-organizations presented over 43,000 signatures for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation to MPs at the Canadian Parliament, on 25 April 2023
Update, May 12, 2023: The petition now has over 50,000 signatures.
Over 43,000 signatures were delivered on Tuesday, 25 April 2023, to Members of Parliament in Ottawa, in a petition urging Canada to adopt a law to prevent abuse of people and the environment by Canadian companies in their global operations and supply chains.
The petition was delivered by representatives of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), a coalition of 40 non-profit organizations, unions and faith groups, with a combined membership of over 3 million Canadians.
The petition calls for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, similar to laws that exist already in France, Germany, Norway and that are in development in other jurisdictions.
Such legislation would require Canadian companies to prevent human rights and environmental harm throughout their global operations and supply chains. If a company causes harm or fails to do its due diligence, it could be subject to legal action in Canada.
Due diligence legislation would make good on the government’s commitments:
- The Minister of Labour’s mandate is to “ensure that Canadian businesses operating abroad do not contribute to human rights abuses.”
- Budget 2023 announced that the federal government intends to “introduce legislation by 2024 to eradicate forced labour from Canadian supply chains.”
- The Minister of Labour reportedly now intends to create an impetus for firms and governments to actually act when they identify an instance of forced labour.
Due diligence legislation would also provide Canada with a real tool to protect people and the environment, unlike a reporting law currently before Parliament, Bill S-211, which would merely require companies to report what they’ve done to address human rights and environmental abuse — if anything. Such laws have proven ineffective in the UK and Australia, and even their proponents in Canada have said they are open to passing better laws.
Better is indeed possible. There is still time in 2023 to make good on the Minister of Labour’s mandate, and the government’s Budget commitment. And there is no good excuse to waste time, as cases of human rights and environmental abuse allegedly associated with Canadian companies continue to be reported.
The Corporate Responsibility to Protect Human Rights Act, a private members bill currently before Parliament (C-262), would establish effective due diligence legislation, according to the CNCA.
The government could pass this Bill, or a similar version, in the coming months, make Canada a leader on corporate accountability, and rebuild Canada’s growing reputation as an enabler of corporate abuse by Canadian-based multinationals.
MPs express support
Representatives of CNCA’s 40 member-organizations were welcomed by MPs from all parties, including Arif Virani, Terry Sheehan, Sameer Zuberi, Chris Lewis, Alexandre Boulerice, Heather McPherson, Peter Julian, Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay, Louise Chabot, Elizabeth May and Mike Morrice.
NDP MP Peter Julian, who sponsored due diligence Bill C-262, is joined by NDP MP Heather McPherson, in welcoming the 43,000-strong petition for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, 25 April 2023.
All of the MPs expressed their support for more corporate accountability in principle, and agreed to continue discussing ways to ensure Canadian corporations respect human rights and the environment.
Organizations call for a strong due diligence law to hold corporations accountable
Representatives from CNCA member-organizations Oxfam Canada, Development and Peace, the Canadian Labour Congress and Above Ground present MP Terry Sheehan with a 43,000-strong petition calling for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, 25 April 2023.
“We and other CNCA members collected over 43,000 signatures on a petition calling for due diligence legislation for Canadian companies. This petition has been presented to over forty MPs from across Canada. The people of our country want real legislation,” said Carl Hétu, Executive Director of Development and Peace. “Will our elected officials act on it?”
Arif Virani, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, meets with representatives from the Canadian Labour Congress, Oxfam Canada, Kairos, Canadian Jesuits International, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability and Amnesty International Canadian Section (English-speaking), to discuss mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, 25 April 2023.
“Sadly, women, Indigenous Peoples and other historically marginalized groups bear the brunt of human rights violations committed by Canadian companies abroad,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canadian Section (English-Speaking). “Canada must adopt a Human Rights and Environment Due Diligence Law if it is to live up to its commitment to empowering women, respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and protecting the environment.”
NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice accepts a 43,000-strong petition calling for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, from Quebec members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, 25 April 2023.
“It’s time for Canadian companies to be held accountable,” said Ian Thomson, Manager of Policy, Oxfam Canada. “The federal government’s approach of relying on voluntary measures of ‘corporate social responsibility’ has failed to curb the worst human rights abuses. The government should immediately table legislation on company due diligence that encompasses all human rights, not limited to one particular issue, such as forced or child labour. Requiring all Canadian companies to conduct comprehensive human rights due diligence would create a level playing field and provide everyone – workers, investors, communities and governments – with assurance that human rights risks are being properly managed in our global supply chains.”
Bloc Québécois MP Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay welcomes representatives CNCA member-organizations to discuss due diligence legislation, 25 April 2023.
“Canadian companies operating or sourcing abroad must be legally obligated to identify, prevent, mitigate and provide remedy for all human rights violations, including labour rights, and environmental damage caused by their operations,” said Marty Warren, National Director, United Steelworkers. “Time and time again, we have seen how voluntary measures, reporting-only laws or box-ticking compliance exercises do not bring any results. Bill C-262, the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights Act, currently before Parliament, meets global standards on mandatory human rights due diligence. By including the full range of human rights and clear consequences for bad behavior, it would ensure that Canadian companies across economic sectors proactively respect human rights and would help create a level playing field for business.”
MP Chris Lewis accepts 43,000-signature petition for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation from CNCA member-organizations MiningWatch Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress, Development and Peace, and Kairos Canada, 25 April 2023.
“United Nations treaty bodies have repeatedly called on Canada to protect human rights being harmed by the activities of Canadian companies operating overseas – often pointing specifically to activities of Canadian mining companies,” said Catherine Coumans, Co-manager, MiningWatch Canada. “Canada can do that by adopting the legislation set out in private members Bill C-262. This legislation allows Canada to require that our multinationals prevent harm to all human rights in their overseas operations and provides access to Canadian courts to ensure a pathway to remedy for those who are harmed. These are critical components for true protection of human rights that are missing from the modern slavery reporting law currently being examined by the Canadian Parliament.”
MPs Elizabeth May and Mike Morrice of the Green Party meet with representatives of CNCA member-organizations Canadian Jesuits International and Above Ground, 25 April 2023.
“Canada needs to pass effective mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation that would hold Canadian corporations accountable for their actions overseas and give marginalized communities in the Global South more protection against forced labour, land and water contamination and violence against women,” said Victor Reyes, Operations Manager, Canadian Jesuits International (CJI). “Adopting private members Bill C-262 will require companies to change their behaviour or face real consequences.”
Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi and CNCA Policy Director Emily Dwyer discuss a 43,000-signature petition for human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, 25 April 2023.
“40 organizations and over 43,000 Canadians have called on the federal government to put in place legislation requiring companies to prevent negative human rights and environmental impacts throughout their global operations and supply chains – mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation,” said Emily Dwyer, Policy Director, Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA). “There is clear, irrefutable public support for Canada to pass a law that makes our corporations truly accountable.”