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Global Affairs Canada Announces the Appointment of the First Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise

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Corporate Social Responsibility Bulletin

The appointment of Ms. Sheri Meyerhoffer to the office of Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) reflects the federal government's commitment to promoting responsible business practices abroad. The appointment is part of Canada's Trade Diversification Strategy, which seeks to diversify its trade and investment opportunities.[1]

Ms. Meyerhoffer is a Canadian lawyer who has broad experience in the private and international sectors and is a world governance and diversity expert.[2]

Her position as CORE is the first of its kind in the world. In Canada, it represents a new voluntary mechanism for resolving disputes, complementing Canada's National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.[3]

CORE's Mandate: Duties and Powers

The federal government has only provided a broad overview of the CORE's mandate. Generally speaking, this mandate consists of reviewing alleged human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company's operations abroad, making recommendations (and ensuring that they are implemented), recommending trade measures for companies that do not co-operate in good faith and reporting publicly throughout the complaint review process. The Ombudsperson will focus on the mining, oil and gas and garment sectors.[4]

The CORE may conduct joint or independent fact-finding to review complaints that are submitted and may also undertake a review on their own initiative.

Moreover, should a company refuse to fully collaborate and participate in good faith in the review process of a complaint in which it is involved, the Ombudsperson may recommend that the government deny or withdraw some of its services, such as trade advocacy and Export Development Canada support. As such, the CORE has an effective means of persuasion to encourage companies to actively and constructively participate in the review process[5].

According to Minister Carr, two more months will be needed before the mandate and ancillary powers of the CORE will be confirmed by an Order in Council. The government will examine the possibility of providing the CORE with powers similar to a commissioner under the Inquiries Act, which would require companies to provide documents and testimony. The Minister has announced that he will appoint a distinguished lawyer to provide him with legal counsel regarding this matter, especially given that there is no consensus in the industry on this question. According to the Mining Association of Canada, joint fact-finding is a more effective and appropriate tool.

For the moment, the mandate and ancillary powers of the CORE remain purely theoretical.

Complaint or Review Procedure at the Office of CORE

The Ombudsperson's Office is not yet operational, As soon as it is, any person, organization, community, Canadian company or designated representative will be able to submit a claim online, through a web portal, or by mail.

The standard operating procedures with regard to the complaint or review process have not yet been established by the Ombudsperson and little information in this respect is currently available.

We are interested to see how the federal approach with regard to responsible business conduct abroad, including the role of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, will unfold. At this time, we are closely monitoring developments regarding the question of the commissioner-like powers that could be granted to the CORE and we will keep you informed of the most recent developments in this regard.

[1] Government of Canada, Diversifying Canada's trade and investment opportunities, Online.

[2] Government of Canada, Biographical note - Sheri Meyerhoffer, Online.

[3] Government of Canada, Canada's National Contact Point for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Online.

[4]  Global Affairs Canada, Canada's Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, Online.

[5] Global Affairs Canada, Responsible business conduct abroad - Questions and answers, Online.


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