Mrs. Romina Picolotti (President and Founder, Center for Human Rights and Environment):
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, members of Parliament.
I'm honoured to have the opportunity to speak before the committee on a matter that greatly affects both Canada and Argentina. I speak before you today in two capacities, first as a former Secretary of the Environment of Argentina serving under the previous and present administrations; and second, as the president of the Center for Human Rights and Environment, a globally prized organization over which I now preside, based in Córdoba, Argentina. My position as environment secretary of Argentina was equivalent to a ministerial position in Canada. I was the highest environmental federal authority and I responded directly to the chief of cabinet of ministers and to the President.
It is not unknown to you that irresponsible mining activities are one of the most controversial types of industrial investments. This controversy is why the sort of debate you're having today about Canadian companies operating abroad, financed by Canadian taxpayers, is so important to promote more responsible investment worldwide. I commend you, your country's parliamentarians, for taking on this extremely serious and very difficult debate.
As environment secretary from 2006 to 2008, I focused Argentina on deepening our efforts at environmental protection after decades of mostly environmental interference. Among the many tasks and achievements to note during this period, I might mention having made substantial headway in forestry protection, corporate compliance of environmental codes, the creation of a federal environmental prosecutorial institution, and regulation of environmental insurance, among other issues.
Internationally, my secretariat was extremely active in spearheading climate change negotiations, including proposing, right here in Canada at the Montreal Protocol meeting, critical commitments that were approved to phase out ozone-depleting substances with high global-warming potential. Despite this good news for my country, I'm sorry to say that one of the areas where we had the most difficulty was in the mining sector.
You're obviously aware of the very large mine investments run by Canadian companies like that of Barrick Gold in Argentina. Unfortunately, far from being the beacon model of sustainable mining that we would hope for in the 21st century, Barrick Gold is a modern example of a powerful economic giant that unscrupulously manipulates local politics and is skirting environmental and social controls to maximize profit, minimize investment risk, and ignore local cultures and communities to the detriment of the greater global objectives of sustainable development.
As the former environmental secretary, I can personally attest to Barrick's tactics of obstruction to the control and compliance powers of the state. I have seen Barrick's use of forceful propaganda and traffic of influence on public officials and its intense marketing and PR gimmicks with the local communities. I approached Barrick in 2006 as environment secretary to exercise my jurisdictional authority over the San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO site and national park in the province of San Juan, where Barrick's Veladero mine is located, with the objective of installing contamination-measuring units through the area. Barrick refused to give my team access to the lands in their mining territory and stalled all subsequent efforts to facilitate such entry until weather conditions changed so drastically in the early winter months that my team's work in the area was no longer physically possible.
I had also engaged with provisional and national authorities to attempt to reform the mining code and place the monitoring and control of the impacts of mining activities within the jurisdiction of the secretary of the environment. The mining sector opposed such participation of Argentinian environmental institutions and lobbied the government and the Congress strongly to obstruct these efforts, maintaining jurisdiction of mining operations solely within the mining agencies, whose objective is the promotion of mining, and not environmental controls.
In 2008, the Congress unanimously passed a glacier protection law. The new glacier law would in fact prohibit mining on, under, or in glacier parameters, something that probably sounds quite reasonable to Canadians, as you come from one of the most glacier-rich areas of the world. Well, so do we.
Canadian companies operating in Argentina did not want a glacier protection law to limit their mining prospects and subsequently pressured the President into vetoing the law. If the President would not veto the law, Barrick would work to block other financial bills that were critical to stabilizing the Argentine economy during the global financial crisis. The President capitulated to Barrick's pressure and vetoed the bill, which has become known euphemistically as the Barrick veto.
Barrick has also pushed forward with several controversial mining projects in Argentina and, time and time again, shows that the company acts in bad faith with respect to the social and environmental community concerns that such large mining interests entail. One of Barrick's gold mining ventures, called Pascua Lama, occurs right on top of five glaciers. Unbelievably, Barrick conveniently failed to mention these facts in its original environmental impact assessment. It was only after communities protested the site choice and pointed out the presence of glaciers that Barrick admitted its mining venture was indeed taking place on at least five glaciers. However, by then, and only from prospecting impacts, much of the glaciers had already been severely impacted by Barrick's exploration. There is still strong resistance to the Pascua Lama project from local indigenous and farming communities that are greatly concerned with water management, contamination, and impacts on natural habitat and reserves.
As environment secretary of Argentina, I fought hard for the promotion of sustainable development and for accountability. I confronted many corporate sectors, engaging them in costly but responsible cleanup. Many did not like this intervention, but ultimately they understood that their responsibility to respect human rights and environmental standards was critical to their own survival and sustainability.
The mining sector, I'm sorry to say, responded quite differently from the rest. They were more resistant, more aggressive, and more dangerous. My closest staff and I were personally and physically threatened following our mining intervention. My children were frightened, my office was wire-tapped, my staff was bought, and the public officials that once controlled Barrick for me became paid employees of Barrick Gold. My mission and our mission as a nation to control mining was jeopardized. Ultimately, I was forced to resign due to insurmountable pressure from companies like Barrick Gold, which ultimately get their way when our institutions fail to control their performance and compliance.
As the maximum environmental authority of my country, I have witnessed first-hand that companies like Barrick Gold do not abide by internationally recognized environmental regulations. I have seen human rights violations from the mining sector that would not be tolerated in Canada but are accepted as the cost of doing business in countries like Argentina. This is why it is so important that you continue this debate and find ways to promote accountability of the mining sector from your vantage point. It is also important to understand that the image of Canada is inevitably related to the behaviour of these companies. When Canadian mining companies act in a manner that is not befitting the true Canadian image, the reputation of Canada and its people suffer.
I don't ask you to be against mining; I do ask you to be against impunity. I don't ask you to be against Canadian mining companies; I do ask you to ensure that he Canadian mining companies acting abroad are accountable to your own highest standards. I don't ask you to intrude on the sovereignty of countries that wish to promote the mining industry, but I do plead with you to consider that the decisions you make about holding Canadian companies to account for their behaviour can and do influence the way they will do business.
Even the smallest improvement in an accountability mechanism here in Canada may go a long way to avoid the historical problems that this sector has visited on many populations around the world. I ask you to consider the predicament you have before you and look for ways to influence the behavioural pattern and minimize the impact of the foreign operations of Canadian mining companies financed by your taxpayers.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Denis Tougas (Coordinator, Table de concertation sur la région des Grands Lacs africains, Entraide Missionnaire Inc.):
Thank you for having me here this morning.
The purpose of my contribution is to demonstrate the benefits that would accrue from implementation of the complaints handling mechanisms proposed by Bill C-300, particularly its ability to assemble information from various sources, based on two specific cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that have been mentioned here on a few occasions.
First, a few words on the expertise of Entraide Missionnaire, which represents many of the francophone Catholic missionary communities in Canada. Since 1988, Entraide Missionnaire has hosted an issue table on the Great Lakes Region. Its objective is to inform and sensitize the Canadian public and authorities to the complex realities of that country. The table focused more closely on the Congolese mining industry starting in 1997, during the first Congo war, when our Congolese partners asked us to inform them about the nature and objectives of the Canadian mining companies that were signing contracts with the parties to the conflict. Since then, together with our Congolese partners, we have been closely monitoring the changes in the mining industry in the Congo.
With regard to the Congo, I will merely remind you that the country was at war from 1996 to 2003, a war that nearly degenerated into a regional conflict when seven countries got involved in it. The wars resulted in millions of deaths, millions of refugees, millions of displaced persons and completely destroyed the country's political and administrative structures. Since the 2006 elections, the Congolese government has been trying to restore its authority and administrative services to the country as a whole, but has been unable to do so. It is in this context of violence and armed conflict, of major democratic deficit and widespread administrative disorganization that Canadian and other companies have come and established themselves in the Congo, at their own risk—a risk that they have not always been able, or wanted, to assess.
Here's the first case. In June 2000, when it became obvious that the illegal exploitation of natural resources was one of the primary reasons for the war, the UN Security Council established an expert panel to shed light on the links between the conflict and the exploitation of those resources. Until June 2003, the panel produced a series of reports identifying countries, companies and individuals joined together in “elite networks”, to use its expression, that were taking advantage of the climate of violence and insecurity to seize the Congo's wealth, and mining wealth first of all.
In addition to those “elite networks” directly involved in the conflict, the expert panel, in its second-last report of October 2008, identified nearly 100 foreign businesses, including seven Canadian mining companies, as being in direct violation of the OECD's guiding principles. In concrete terms, the expert panel accused those businesses of indirectly participating in the prolonging of the war and the resulting massive human rights violations, by continuing to do business with either a rebel group or the central government, and by paying mining concession acquisition fees, royalties or taxes, the proceeds of which were used to buy weapons.
In addition, based on supporting documentary evidence, it accused one of the Canadian companies of engaging in corruption involving persons close to the government in order to obtain certain concessions. In view of the outcry raised by this accusation made by an instrument of the United Nations, the Security Council extended the panel's mandate so that it could receive explanations from the companies concerned. In its final report, the expert panel classified the cases of 43 of those foreign businesses, including the seven Canadian companies, as “resolved”, while stating that that in no way invalidated the information previously obtained by the expert panel concerning the parties' activities.
In addition, the President of the Security Council called on all states concerned to conduct their own investigations into the expert panel's revelations. It also stated that all the “restricted but non-confidential” documents relating to the investigations would be available to states requesting them.
The Belgian senate held a parliamentary commission of inquiry and the National Contact Points of Great Britain, the United States and Belgium reviewed the cases of 13 of their companies cited in the report. Authorities so requesting obtained the documents claimed from the UN Office of Legal Affairs. In general, these initiatives revealed a significant degree of laxism on the part of the companies in their relationship with Congolese political and military authorities. In Belgium, the Senate commission's revelations led to judicial inquiries into corruption and money laundering. In three cases, the National Contact Points issued news releases to state that there was a problem. No action was taken in response to those news releases. As for the Belgian senate committee, most of the recommendations contained in its report were forgotten. The senate committee had no power of sanction.
Here in Canada, from 2002 to 2004, groups in Canadian and international civil society, as well as Congolese groups, asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the National Contact Point to obtain this documentation and pursue these inquiries in accordance with the Security Council president's recommendation. In 2005, our National Contact Point announced its decision to take no action in response to the expert panel's report.
For your information, for the 2008 fiscal year, the Canada Pension Plan held $297 million worth of shares in six of the companies cited in the expert panel's report. In 2004, the Canada Investment Fund for Africa granted $15 million to a company cited by the expert panel. Today, the figure is approximately $5 million.
Here's the second case, which is known to you, I believe. Anvil Mining and its Canadian staff are suspected of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. In 2008, the Canada Pension Plan held $20 million worth of shares in that company. In October 2004, six or seven rebels took control of the City of Kilwa, near the Anvil Mining mine. Company employees were requisitioned by Congolese authorities to transport military personnel by aircraft and truck to retake the city. The company also provided food rations to soldiers and paid their wages. The city was retaken in 48 hours, but its inhabitants had fled.
The UN observation mission to the Congo conducted an on-site investigation, which established that more than 100 persons had been killed during the military operation, including 28 by summary execution. According to witnesses, the soldiers had plundered the city, made arbitrary arrests, raped women and tortured prisoners. The report also indicates that Anvil Mining provided logistical support for the operation. Witnesses stated that the company had not only transported soldiers, prisoners and wounded, but had also conveyed the bodies of civilians who had been killed in order to bury them in a mass grave.
In the House of Commons in June 2005, Roger Clavet, member for Louis-Hébert, put a question on this subject to the Minister for International Cooperation. To date, that question has not been answered.
A military trial was conducted in the Congo in 2007. Three expatriate employees of Anvil Mining, including one Canadian, were summoned to testify. The court acquitted the company and its three employees on charges on aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. Four Congolese citizens were sentenced to life in prison, but on charges unrelated to the massacre. Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was in the Congo at the time, said this:
||I am troubled by the court's findings that the events in Kilwa were the accidental result of combat, despite the fact that there was substantial eyewitness testimony at the trial and material evidence that serious human rights violations had been deliberately committed.
She pressed the court of appeal to weigh all the evidence and consider the rights of the 144 victims. Ms. Arbour's long-awaited appeal was unfortunately dismissed by the military court shortly thereafter. Starting in June 2005, Canadian, Congolese and international organizations demanded that the government conduct its own investigation into the incidents. Those demands were forwarded to the ministers concerned and to the National Contact Point. Similarly, following the court of appeal decision, most of those organizations asked the governments of South Africa, Australia and Canada to investigate the company and their nationals who had been involved in the incidents, as it had become clear that the victims could not be heard in the Congo.
In response, Canada's National Contact Point said that it had met with the company and had made it understand the Government of Canada's expectations: that it comply with the OECD's guiding principles, particularly its human rights recommendations. No investigation would be conducted.
Here are a few lessons I invite you to draw from these two cases.
In our view, both cases illustrate the benefits that would have resulted from the passage of Bill C-300 for the companies, the Government of Canada and the groups and individuals who felt they had been adversely affected by certain mining activities.
In both cases, the complaints were not frivolous or vexatious. Investigations were conducted and members of the authorities, such as the President of the UN Security Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated their opinion on the validity of the accusations. And yet no authority in Canada took action on those complaints. No one was accountable for those decisions.
No one took action in response to those requests to conduct an investigation and thus to confirm or contradict the charges, undermine the position of the companies or that of the Government of Canada.
On the ground in the Congo, as a result of the pervasive corruption and lack of transparency with respect to the conditions in which mining contracts are signed, the legitimacy of those contracts is still in doubt. In the current context of extreme poverty for the vast majority of the population, that could mean additional costs for the companies to increase security for their operations against the local communities that are not benefiting from the exploitation of their resources.
Somewhat as the previous witness said, Canada is losing its reputation.
Canada's diplomatic personnel have been and continue to be very active in supporting Canadian companies in the Congo, despite persistent doubts about the integrity of their contracts and behaviour. On a number of occasions, embassy staff and, on occasion, the ambassador, have publicly supported the companies despite their disputes with either the government or the local communities.
Even more important, Canada is purportedly blocking settlement of the Congo's debt to the Paris Club. That debt of approximately $4 billion or $5 billion was incurred as a result of Mobutu's pranks. That settlement is necessary for the country to have access to the International Monetary Fund's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, which the country very much needs. And that is because one of the Canadian companies cited in the expert panel's report is dissatisfied with the outcome of the renegotiation of one of its mining contracts. The Congolese government has decided to cancel one of those contracts.
Without the investigations called for in Canada and internationally, one wonders on what basis the Government of Canada decided to give such strong support to companies denounced in a UN report.
For many more years, the Congo will continue to be a democratically weak country and to have governance well below what constitutes a suitable business context. Political tensions can be expected to rise as the 2011 elections approach. Social tensions in the mining sector resulting in strikes, demonstrations and the eviction of manual diggers and local communities are already present and could last a long time.
In this context as well, the Export Development Canada has already announced that it intends to support the project of Tenke Fungurume Mining, one of whose partners, the Canadian company Lundin, was also cited by the expert panel.
In conclusion, in this specific unstable business climate, passage of Bill C-300 would hold out a definite benefit.
Mrs. Marketa Evans (Counsellor, Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor):
Thank you very much.
Good morning, and thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on this very important topic this morning.
My name is Marketa Evans, and about one month ago I took up the role of Canada's CSR counsellor for the extractive sector overseas. I'm not here to represent any position on Bill C-300; I represent neither the government nor industry nor civil society. I think my priority in my role is to contribute to an informed strategic public conversation that could capitalize on Canada's extractive sector dominance to make a more significant contribution to our human development objectives. I believe this positive potential has been largely untapped in any strategic or integrated manner. But I also believe there's actually a groundswell of support from a wide-ranging cross-section of Canadian stakeholders to make it happen.
In an effort to be most helpful to the committee I'll focus on two main points and then we can get to some questions. The first is who I am and a little bit about my mandate. The second is some issues for the committee to consider as it deliberates this bill.
First, I'll give you a little bit about my background and the role of the CSR counsellor.
I've never worked for the extractive sector in any capacity, nor have I ever worked in government. While I was employed at the University of Toronto, I conducted research on global corporate citizenship in general and on business-NGO engagement in developing countries more particularly. I examined in the course of that research and in some detail two case studies where Canada played a significant role. The first one was Talisman in Sudan and the second was the issue of conflict diamonds, which eventually resulted in the well-known Kimberly Process Certification Scheme. So my views here have been informed by my research work; by literally thousands of conversations that I have had with a very wide variety of stakeholders who generously shared with me their candid views and insights; by my students in a graduate course I taught for several years on this topic; by my involvement in the Devonshire Initiative, which is a co-created platform for NGOs and the Canadian mining industry to build trust and foster partnerships; and by visits to mine sites in emerging markets.
Most recently I was employed by one of the world's oldest and largest aid and development NGOs, one that works in almost 50 developing countries. So perhaps it won't be a surprise to you to hear that my benchmark of success in this role will be very clear: are the people in developing countries better off as a result of the presence of a Canadian company? In particular, the focus should be on the poorest, the women and the children, since not only do they bear the brunt of poverty, hunger, disease, and discrimination, but also because they are the most crucial change agents.
A few points frame my thinking on this. I didn't actually start off looking at the extractive sector. I was looking at business more generally, but I quickly came to realize that mining, metals, and energy are crucial to the realization of the millennium development goals. There is no improvement in basic living standards, no electrification, no water and sanitation, and no infrastructure without those industries.
Second, I realized that developing country governments are increasingly seeking out resource exploitation and investment as well as advice on how to best manage resources and revenue flows.
Third, private sector development is increasingly accepted as a crucial factor in poverty reduction and social development. Global best practice is moving very quickly to multi-party, multi-stakeholder work with, not for, the private sector. NGOs are seeing the potential benefit in shifting both the thinking and the practice of the extractive sector, and this is as evidenced in global partnerships now existing between CARE and Anglo-American, for instance, and Shell and International Alert, BirdLife and Rio Tinto, just to name a few.
But we all know that wealth creation is not sufficient. I believe Canada has an unprecedented opportunity to seize a leadership position in this sector and realize its potential as a constructive development actor. In mining alone, Canadian companies invest sums that are on par or exceed CIDA's investments in developing countries, and they have a long-term time horizon—10, 20, 30 years—conducive to making the kinds of changes that we need to see in developing countries.
The 2005 SCFAIT committee report, the round table's process, the advisory group report—all these contributed to launching what I believe is an important national conversation. The government took a long time to respond to the report, but much constructive progress was made in that two-year timeframe, even in the absence of a formal government response. You've already heard about most of these—the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, our participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the launching of the Devonshire Initiative, and e3 Plus.
Because many civil society organizations and others have emphasized the special importance of the human rights agenda in extractive industries, it is useful to flag once more the significant work of the UN Secretary General's special representative on business and human rights, Professor John Ruggie. He is now four years into his six-year mandate, and Canada was an early and strong supporter of what I believe has now become a serious and credible framework for moving forward on this crucial issue.
In early November, Professor Ruggie and I were present at a two-day consultation hosted in Toronto by Osgoode Law School. Many Canadian experts participated. My understanding from that consultation is that no state is currently proposing even voluntary human rights standards for business and that no guidelines for business exist at this time. The Ruggie framework, which was endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission last year, concluded that the human rights obligations of a state do not translate literally for business. Business has responsibilities with respect to human rights, but these are different, and articulating them is the project of this phase of the Ruggie mandate.
I have a few quick words about my mandate. I'm appointed through an order in council for a three-year term. I report directly to the Minister of International Trade. Minister Day and I have agreed on the importance of keeping this role at arm's length from the government and from the department, and I take seriously the importance of establishing a credible, constructive office.
The order in council stipulates two elements of the role. The first is to review issues brought before the office by either NGOs or companies; the second is to advise all stakeholders on the implementation of the standards.
Much has been made of the fact that I am not called an ombudsman. I have carefully reviewed the recommendations made in the advisory group report, and I see little daylight between what was recommended in the report and my role.
The criticism that the role is toothless revolves around two elements. The first is the ability to compel participation in a review. The order in council explicitly states that both parties must agree to a review. I'm not sure how compulsory participation would operate in practice, but I have no particular position on such a requirement. My working hypothesis consists of two parts. In the first place, a quality review would be difficult to undertake without both parties' consent—and for such a review you need access to people, files, and premises. In the second place, significant incentives for parties to participate already exist. Being involved in the process means you have some say in the outcome, while the reputational fallout from failing to consent would need to be explained to investors, donors, and the media. Public reports are to be issued in all cases. Nevertheless, I could imagine some reasonable situations in which either an NGO or a company might be justified in declining participation, although I'm not aware of any actual cases right now.
The second critique centres on the lack of automatic sanction. I have no particular view on sanction. What I would need to understand more deeply is how and under what conditions sanctions can be an effective tool in prevention and performance improvement on the ground. In any case, I strongly recommend to the committee that sanctions should be as envisaged in the advisory group report—that is to say, measured, commensurate with transgression, allowing sufficient time and tools for remediation and action plans, as the culmination of a fulsome engagement process, and importantly, incremental to what is already in place. According to the advisory group report, only in cases where there was both “serious non-compliance” and a company that ignored remediation would there be a recommendation around possible withdrawal of financial and/or non-financial support.
I fully understand that some civil society organizations see the review process in the round table's report as a package deal, which is to say, an ombudsman with a tripartite review committee. But there's nothing in the order in council to dictate how the review process under the counsellor's office is to be established, and nothing to interdict the eventual creation of such a multi-stakeholder committee should one be desired or warranted. Indeed, there is a tripartite execute committee currently being established to guide and support the CSR centre for excellence.
I want to emphasize that there is no review process in place right now and there are no preconditions or preconceptions as to how it should be established or how it should eventually function. A serious, credible review process is one of my key priorities, and my commitment is to establish it in an open, fully participatory way, drawing on as much expertise as I can, benchmarking to existing review processes, and learning from those experiences. In my view, that process will be more productive and fruitful embedded in an enhanced conversation on a few other issues, to which I now turn.
The first is to ensure we have a full understanding of the problem. I think we've had some powerful case studies, some powerful indications of what is happening. In some cases these were instances that were quite specific and in some cases they relate much more generally to well-known linkages between resource exploitation and human rights abuses or environmental degradation. Some allegations go back 10 or 15 years.
I suggest we still have significant room for a diagnostic of why these events are happening. Are companies stupid, wilful, blind? Is there evidence to support the notion that the industry still has not gotten the message on CSR? Have they learned nothing? Is there evidence to suggest the problem is getting better or worse? A richer empirical diagnostic of the problem would ensure that we better understand root causes, lessons learned, dissemination techniques. We could get a better handle on our objectives and success indicators. In three, five, or ten years, what do we expect or want to be different? What results do we want and how would we measure progress? Such an approach would allow us, I believe, to chart a productive path forward and align our work on key elements that need to be tackled.
Second, I would recommend we ensure that we have sufficient information to make informed choices about potential unintended consequences. With increasing demand for natural resources globally, it is to be expected that where resources exist they will be exploited, if not by Canadian companies, then quite likely by someone else. Perhaps a Canadian divestment would spur more artisanal mining, which is often characterized by the worst forms of child labour and significant environmental degradation. Perhaps the property would be taken over by a state-owned company, companies that tend to have poor human rights records. Perhaps the concession would simply be purchased by a company that was not subject to media, shareholder, activist, or government scrutiny. Or perhaps the Canadian company would simply be bought by a sovereign wealth fund, as has increasingly been happening.
You heard Amnesty International testify before you that it did not intend for Talisman to pull out of Sudan. I had been told that, off the record, during my research interviews by several of the NGOs that were involved in the campaign against Talisman, but it was the first I'd heard of it publicly. Companies are capable of significant change in attitude and performance, and Talisman is now ranked among the top 50 CSR companies in Canada. So I believe we should make a further investment of what the implications are of Canadian divestment.
Third is to more actively leverage our efforts and, to the greatest extent possible, work in tandem with like-minded countries, donors, agencies, etc. We want all citizens in developing countries to have a voice, not simply those who happen to be located in the vicinity of a Canadian mining operation. We want them to be empowered on all the issues they face, and for that we need to work much harder on citizen empowerment, particularly for marginalized or underrepresented groups, much harder on education, on fostering local government responsiveness, on reducing corruption, enhancing accountability, and so on.
This is one of the main reasons I've long championed a much stronger NGO voice in this conversation, not simply to move the thinking of the corporate sector itself but especially because NGOs are absolutely crucial to the progress on the ground on citizen empowerment.
Finally, I caution that reviews are not a silver bullet. In practice, they can be extremely expensive and difficult to conduct. Rarely do they seem to mark a once-and-for-all conclusion to any debate. Review mechanisms exist today and some sit idle. While we can certainly build a better mousetrap, even a carefully designed mechanism will not necessarily deliver a crisp, clean, easy answer on whether a company is in or out of compliance on any particular standard.
Both the government's CSR strategy and Bill C-300 reference the IFC performance standards that were established in April 2006 and form the basis for banks' Equator Principles. There are eight IFC standards, covering social, cultural, labour, community, biodiversity, environment, and indigenous issues. Each standard is supported by many recommendations covering assessments, management systems, training, community engagement, monitoring, and so on. The eight standards themselves run to 34 pages, and the supporting guidance notes are a further 170 pages.
Because the standards have been created to be used in a wide variety of environments and by a large variety of companies, each requirement contains areas of subjective interpretation. I'll just quickly cite one example to give you a flavour.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Calgary East, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for coming here today, Ms. Evans, and congratulations on your appointment to this position.
Let me start by saying first that the round table conference done by the government and the stakeholders was a very extensive consultation process involving the NGOs, the mining community, and everybody else. Through that extensive round table conference, we came out with a lot of recommendations, including your appointment and the setting up of the institute for excellence. This puts Canada into the forefront of corporate social responsibility in reference to other countries.
What surprises me most in this whole thing is that we are not letting that process go through; we're not letting them see what has happened. If there were concerns and everything on issues that came out after this round table conference and its recommendations, and on what you have been talking about, and two years down the road from now nothing much had happened and the stories we just heard here were to keep repeating themselves, then yes, I can see something different coming out of here. This is an evolutionary process.
The problem with this bill is that it has jumped all of that. It has made assumptions right at the beginning in saying that this, this, or this thing is going to happen, not taking into account the tremendous amount of consultation in that process. As a matter of fact, this bill that has been brought here has had absolutely a very poor consultation process, and now, when all the stakeholders are coming out, we can hear the author of this bill trying to find ways and things to amend it, but he should have been part.... I don't know whether he was also part and parcel of that round table conference, where he would have heard about what the other stakeholders were doing. What we are having here is his selected people coming in here to tell us and not doing this....
The main point here, as you have pointed out, is that this is a beginning process, that this is a process that will build up. This is a process that will put Canada on top.
The Talisman issue in Sudan was a clear case of how the evolution moved forward, but the vacuum was filled by other countries that had a very low social standard of corporate social responsibility. Today in Africa, China is all over the place. As you rightly pointed out, countries want to develop their extractives, their resources, for the betterment of the people.
So my first question to you here is this. In your opinion, is there any other country that you know of in any part of the world that has a counsellor or a similar position and a centre of excellence that is supported by all stakeholders? Or are we number one in the world in breaking ground on this one?
Second, don't you think it would logical with your power as you build up...? In your testimony, you stated many times that you need more facts and everything to comment. Wouldn't it make logical common sense for us to let you do your work, to go ahead with everything here, before we come out with something that is very negative for the industry?