Catholic leaders concerned over the corporate responsibility of Canadian companies

The existing system hurts people and the planet and we are called to do better, 200+ church elders warn world governments.

Canadian Catholic leaders, including the executive committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the executive director, Serge Langlois, and president, Evelyne Beaudoin, of Development and Peace — Caritas Canada, recently wrote to the Honourable Mary Ng, Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, urging her to truly fulfill the government’s promise by granting the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) the power to compel documents and testimony and thereby investigate complaints effectively.

The signatories warn that without these powers, the CORE can only operate in an “advisory” capacity to Canadian companies in the mining, energy and garment sectors, and will not fare better than its predecessor, the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, which closed down after not being able to independently investigate complaints.

Recently, it was discovered that the government ignored expert advice from an external legal review commissioned by former minister of international trade diversification Jim Carr on how to equip the CORE to function effectively. That review had concluded that:

  • “If the CORE is structured as an ombudsperson appointed as a Ministerial Advisor, as is currently the case, its effectiveness will be dependent on the cooperation of the complainant and the entity being investigated.”
  • “…it is fair to say that without a way to compel the cooperation of the entities against which a complaint is made or others who may hold relevant information, the CORE’s effectiveness may be compromised.”

After several delays since the announcement of its creation in 2018, the CORE opened to receive complaints as of March 15, 2021, but the government has still not fulfilled its promise to empower the office with the necessary powers to be a true voice for justice.

The letter from the faith leaders concludes that, “Acting on this promise would ensure that Canada would uphold its international obligations, including the Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Catholic leaders have long expressed dismay at the human and environmental abuses committed by companies operating overseas, including in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 and, more recently, in a CIDSE statement calling on “all governments to uphold their obligations under international law to protect human rights and prevent corporate abuses.”

The latter was signed by more than 200 bishops and seven cardinals from around the world, including Archbishop Richard Gagnon on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. It reiterates Pope Francis’s call to “do better” as we address and emerge from the global crisis—one not just of health, but of exploitation, climate change and abuse in the profit-driven system. Its signatories write, “As Bishops, we feel we have a moral and spiritual obligation to speak about the urgency of reordering the priorities during and in the aftermath of this crisis.”

The bishops call on governments to realize the global values professed by international treaties by enacting mandatory due diligence laws that would apply throughout the supply chains of companies registered within their borders. The statement notes that in the current crisis,

“states have a unique opportunity to step up, by introducing effective and robust legislation that would establish mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence obligations for all companies. Such legislation should improve access to courts for people affected by human rights violations, holding companies accountable for damages they have caused. …The coronavirus crisis should be taken as an opportunity to start a just transition and to put in place a new economic system that serves people and the planet first.

Pope Francis has called the primacy of corporate interests a “new version of colonialism” (Querida Amazonia, 14) and advocated for the strengthening of regulation over extractive companies and ensuring avenues to justice for affected communities.

By empowering the CORE, the Canadian government would be taking an important step in the just transition required for our one human family to recover from the pandemic and move towards a more sustainable, peaceful and equitable world.

Raise your voice!

Join our call to the Canadian government to follow through on its promise to grant the CORE the independence and powers necessary to properly investigate complaints of human rights and environmental abuse. Click here for a sample process and text.