Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Creation by Canada of an Ombudsperson to Oversee Canadian Companies Operating Abroad

February 6, 2018

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Washington D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the announcement by the Canadian government, on January 17, 2017, of the creation of a "Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE)" to address complaints related to allegations of human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company’s operations abroad, as well as a multi-stakeholder Advisory Board on Responsible Business Conduct. This initiative is a first of its kind worldwide, and if correctly implemented, could become a model and example to be reproduced. 

The Commission supports the decision of the State of Canada to tie the extraordinary financial and political advantage that comes with being a Canadian company with human rights responsibilities and accountability. This decision is of particular relevance to the IACHR, given that 50 to 70 % of all mining activity in Latin America involves Canadian companies, and that some of these have been tied to allegations of human rights violations. 

The announcement was the result of over a decade of pressure by civil society on the Canadian government, and has been the focus of years of monitoring at the IACHR. Indeed, in October 2013, October 2014, March 2015, and December 2017, the IACHR held thematic hearings addressing Canadian corporate accountability abroad, and calling on the State to create a non-judicial grievance mechanism with the necessary tools to fully and effectively carry out its mission.

Some aspects of the Ombudsperson’s mandate have yet to be fully defined, however authorities have announced that the Ombudsperson will have the power to conduct independent investigations of allegations of human rights abuses arising from Canadian corporate activity abroad, and will be provided with all the tools and resources necessary to fulfill its mandate correctly.  The Ombudsperson will also have the capacity to issue recommendations regarding the financial compensation of victims, corporate policy changes, changes to government policy, as well as the withdrawal of diplomatic support and Export Development Canada (EDC) financial support.  For its part, the multi-stakeholder Advisory Body will advise the Government on the effective implementation and development of laws, policies and practices addressing responsible business conduct by Canadian companies operating abroad

The Commission reaffirms the importance that the powers of this new non-judicial grievance mechanism be consonant with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions(the Paris Principles), inter-American standards, and the specific recommendations of several international human rights bodies regarding corporate responsibility in Canada, such as the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, among others.  In this regard, the Commission calls for the Ombudsperson to enjoy the utmost independence in the investigative process, including full discretion to summon testimony and documents; as well as the power to make publicly accessible and binding recommendations geared at non-repetition and remedy.

In its report Indigenous Peoples, Afro-Descendent Communities and Natural Resources: Human Rights Protection in the Context of Extraction, Exploitation, and Development Activities, the IACHR emphasized the need for foreign corporations to also be held accountable in their home countries for actions that violate human rights abroad, especially when these States were more economically powerful, and when the host State is unable to protect or enforce the human rights in question. In this regard, Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, Antonia Urrejola, reaffirmed that "the Commission’s monitoring of the situation had brought it to observe a pattern of impunity where vulnerable populations – in particular, indigenous communities, Afrodescendant peoples, human rights defenders, women, peasants - become victims of human rights violations as a result of the actions or inaction of such companies, and the inability or unwillingness of the host state to protect them".  

Regarding this issues of corporate accountability in home countries, the Commission underscores the importance of the decisions Hudbay Minerals, Tahoe Resources and Nevsun Resources in which Canadian courts have agreed to hear on the merits claims of alleged human rights abuses associated with the overseas operations of Canadian mining companies, and hopes that, if wrongdoings are found to have taken place, they may lead to findings of liability. In this regard, Commissioner Flavia Piovesan, Country Rapporteur for Canada, affirmed that "this decision to appoint an Ombudsperson is a promising first step towards Canada’s fulfillment of its international human rights obligations. It must however be implemented jointly with other measures to remedy corporate wrongdoing, such as the removal of substantive, procedural and practical barriers to access to Canadian courts for those who have been harmed by the international operations of Canadian companies." For her part, the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, Soledad Garcia Muñoz, congratulates Canada for the creation of this mechanism and hopes to have a close collaboration with the State during its implementation. She also reminds that "in certain circumstances, the State can be held internationally responsible for human rights violations committed by third parties, including companies. This obligation might extend extraterritorially according to the limits of the applicable international law." 

Finally, the Commission reaffirms that inter-American and international human rights obligations and standards, among which the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, require States to take appropriate legislative, administrative and other appropriate measures to prevent violations; to investigate, prosecute and punish, with due diligence, those allegedly responsible; as well as to guarantee victims an adequate, effective and prompt reparation, which include the following forms: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 020/18