U.N. Working Group makes recommendations to protect human rights, labour rights in Canada

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a  Statement at the end of visit to Canada by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights on June 1. This is a preliminary document – the official mission report will be presented to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2018, and should be worth watching for.  The preliminary Statement provides a summary of the results of fact-finding meetings with government officials, business organizations related to Canada’s mining and oil and gas industries, and Indigenous people. Most importantly, it makes a number of recommendations regarding human rights, labour rights, environmental and social impact consultation, and the right to consult for Indigenous people.

Some Highlights:

“Part of the backdrop to our visit were visible protests by indigenous communities to several large-scale development projects, such as the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, the construction a large-scale hydroelectric dam (Site C Dam), and continued expansion of development projects of extractives industries. Several of these cases have also been repeatedly raised by UN human rights human rights mechanisms, such as the situation of the Lubicon Cree Nation, whose territories are affected by extensive oil sands extraction. In several indigenous territories, extensive mining and oil and gas extraction are accompanied by significant adverse environmental impacts affecting the right to health.”

Regarding the established “duty to consult” with Indigenous people regarding mining projects, the Working Group encourages the Canadian government to ratify the ILO Convention No. 169 and for provincial and the federal government to promote more inclusive consultation regarding development projects.

The Working Group also urges the federal government to “follow up” on the April 2017 recommendations by the Expert Panel regarding Environmental Assessment in Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada  “to include indigenous peoples in decision-making at all stages through a collaborative process that is developed in partnership with impacted indigenous communities.”

Regarding the dam breach and tailings spill at the Mount Polley mine, the Working Group states: “We encourage the British Columbia government to complete expeditiously the impact study, continue to monitor closely the short-term and long-terms impacts of the tailings discharge, and communicate more widely their findings and proposed actions. Moreover, the provincial government should consult more broadly with indigenous communities who may have concerns about the breach and its impact on their lives. We also recommend the British Columbia government to consider establishing an independent body to assume compliance and monitoring of mining regulations, as recommended in the Auditor General’s report”.

Regarding the Westray Law, the Working Group states: “We heard concerns that the Westray law is not being properly implemented and enforced. We heard that there was a lack of coordination between key government parties, to secure sites of industrial accidents, for further investigation and inspection. We note that the Government of Alberta recently signed a new memorandum of understanding with ten police forces and Alberta Justice,  that defines protocols for notification, investigation and communication between departments when there is a serious workplace incident. Other provinces should follow Alberta’s lead”.

Regarding the need to protect the right to peaceful protest: “During our visit, we were told of the criminalization of peaceful protests and the use of security personnel and police to break up and arrest activists who were exercising their democratic right to protest against extractive projects both within and outside Canada. The government should work all relevant stakeholders to ensure more space for peaceful dissent and protest at home and abroad.”  And also: referring to Ontario and Quebec,  “we would encourage other provincial governments to develop similar Anti-SLAPP legislation. “

In conclusion: The Working Group revives a 2006 proposal for an Ombudsperson with a mandate to investigate allegations of business-related human rights abuse, and “we encourage the federal government to work together with provincial governments to develop a comprehensive national action plan on business and human rights. ”

For Oxfam Canada’s summary of the Working Group, see the Huffington Post article here , and here for the reaction of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability .

The Working Group Statement was also concerned with human rights abuses overseas by Canadian mining companies: see the analysis of the Working Group statement by Human Rights Watch here, or see “The ‘Canada Brand’: Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America“,  an extensive report in the Osgoode Law  Research Paper Series (December 2016).

Case studies of Community and human rights impacts of Renewable energy companies, and a ranking of multinationals in Ag/Food, Apparel and Mining

renewable energy investor briefing coverAn April 2017 report from the London-based advocacy group,  Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asks,  “What adverse impacts can renewable energy projects have on communities around the world?”   Renewable Energy investor briefing: Managing risks & responsibilities for impacts on local communities  (April 2017) is directed at financial and investment professionals who are considering investment in renewable energy projects- in this report, comprised of wind and small-to-medium hydro, but excluding solar .  It starts from the premise that Just Transition principles are essential, then explains the international human rights responsibilities of companies.  The report also provides examples of the kinds of questions that should be asked in shareholder meetings and before investment decisions are made, and gives examples of best practice policies – for example, inclusion of community benefits agreements.  One of the main issues it discusses is the right to free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, which is an ongoing topic monitored by the BHRC.

The report provides case studies, including  six positive examples, including: the Ixtepec community-owned wind project in Mexico; the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm in South Africa; and  a cluster of wind projects in Jämtland, Sweden, for which OECD guidelines are being used in negotiations between the company and affected Indigenous people.  The full suite of case studies is presented in a searchable database which allows searching by company name, issue, country, and more.  There are no Canadian projects included in the 2017 report, although a profile of Ontario Power Generation  is available as part of the Centre’s ongoing database  of human rights in the energy sector  .

In March 2017, the Centre also launched an updated and expanded  Corporate Human Rights Benchmark website , which ranked 98 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies, from the  Agriculture, Apparel, and Extractive industries. The Benchmark is intended to drive a “race to the top” and is directed at business, government, and “ to empower civil society, workers, communities, customers, and the media with better public information to reward, encourage, and promote human rights advances by companies and make well-informed choices about which companies to engage with.”  A 50 page summary report is here .  There are six thematic measurement categories, including “ Company Performance: Human Rights Practices”  which  includes rankings related to living wage, freedom of association and right to bargain collectively, health and safety, amongst others.

Small steps for the miners behind electric vehicles and smart phones

Cobalt is a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. 60% of the world’s supply is mined in  Congo, according to “The Cobalt Pipeline” (September 2016),  a Washington Post special report which documented the appalling working conditions of the “artisanal miners”.  Occupational health and safety concerns for  miners was also  expressed in  “The Battery Revolution is exciting, but Remember they Pollute too”, by Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods in The Conversation (June 2015).

In a December 20 article,  the Washington Post reports on two new initiatives to curb “the worst forms of child labor” and other abusive workplace practices in the supply chain for cobalt. The first, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, is being  led by  the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, and supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with members pledging to follow OECD guidelines  which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Apple, HP, Samsung SDI and Sony have signed on.

The second initiative, the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI) has been launched by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition , a nonprofit group sponsored by more than 110  electronics companies, and  “dedicated to improving the social, environmental and ethical conditions of their global supply chains.” The EICC states that it “engages regularly with dozens of non-member organizations including civil society groups, trade unions and other worker’s groups, academia and research institutions, socially responsible investors, and governmental and multilateral institutions.”  Ford Motor Company is a member of the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative, by virtue of being the first auto manufacturer to join the EICC. ( Press release is here (February 2016). Ford has sought to brand itself as a leader in ethical supply chain management   ; see their report,  Going Further towards Supply Chain Leadership . Tesla, the most high-profile electric vehicle manufacturer, is said to be considering membership in the RRMI. According to a report from Energy Mix (June 24, 2016) “Tesla’s Ambitions Demand ‘Unprecedented Quantities’ of Key Minerals” , including lithium, nickel, cobalt, and aluminum to produce vehicle batteries.  As of January 2017, Energy Mix also reported  that  Tesla started mass production at its lithium-ion battery Gigafactory in Nevada, which will be the world’s largest when it is complete in 2018 .

tesla-gigafactory

Tesla Gigafactory, Nevada.  Photo from the Tesla website .