Will 'mining' watchdog hold multinationals to account?

Canada's corporate social responsibility strategy is to ensure resource companies operating abroad adhere to international human right and labour standards. Flickr photo of Guatemala mine via Goldcorp Inc.
Jeff Bone, The Tyee, 27/03/15

Mining companies are unique in that they have always had to go where resources are physically located. These areas are often remote, environmentally delicate and inhabited by Indigenous people who will not share equally in the economic benefits of development.

Canadian mining companies' international assets have increased in the past 10 years from a value of $30 billion to $210 billion. In light of these investments, some argue that the environment and communities from where these minerals are extracted have sometimes faced negative impacts. For instance, Hudbay Minerals Inc. is expected to go to trial in Ontario for alleged human rights abuses in Guatemala where it and a former subsidiary operated a nickel mine. The company has denied the allegations and they have not been proved in court.

In early March, the Canadian government appointed a new federal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) counsellor for the mining sector after paying $180,000 to run the vacant office for more than a year.

It is unlikely the appointment of Jeffrey Davidson, an academic at Queen's University, reflects a shift in the government's approach to regulating the overseas activity of the extractive sector. Simply put, nothing will change.

This is Ottawa's second run at establishing a watchdog role over Canadian mining companies. In 2009, the federal government first unveiled its CSR strategy, which established the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR counsellor to investigate disputes raised by foreign communities that allege wrongdoing by Canadian mining companies abroad. The office is not vested with any civil or criminal powers of enforcement. The CSR counsellor cannot impose a remedy or issue any sanctions.