Proposed law to require Canadian companies to address human rights and environmental harm abroad

More than 150 organizations and unions from 32 countries endorsed the draft model legislation

Proposed law to require Canadian companies to address human rights and environmental harm abroad
The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability aims to promote business and human rights in Canada

The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability has issued a draft of the model Corporate Respect for Human Rights and the Environment Abroad Act, aiming to offer a blueprint for legislating a corporate duty to respect human rights and the environment.

The network released the draft model law at a May 31 virtual press conference in Ottawa, which was held via Zoom webinar and streamed on Facebook Live. More than 150 organizations and unions advancing the rights of those affected by the activities of Canadian companies from 32 different countries endorsed the proposed legislation, said a news release.

The draft model legislation seeks to provide Canadian lawmakers with a guide to obligate Canadian companies to prevent human rights and environmental harm across their global operations and supply chains and to offer those who are impacted by the failure of Canadian companies and their subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers to perform their human rights and environmental due diligence with the statutory right to initiate a civil case against these offenders in Canadian courts.

“We are calling on Canadian lawmakers to catch up to global leaders by adopting our model legislation, a comprehensive law that would help respond to the widespread and egregious abuses linked to Canadian companies including forced labour, sexual violence, and murder,” said Jean Symes from Inter Pares, a feminist social justice organization, in the news release.

“Canadian businesses that are already doing what’s needed to protect human and environmental rights will welcome this legislation,” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, who added that Canadian companies who have been falling short can now be held accountable.

“The CNCA’s proposal stands in stark contrast to the modern slavery reporting law currently being examined by the Canadian Senate,” said Catherine Coumans, co-manager at MiningWatch Canada. Coumans said that the proposed legislation seeks to ensure that Canadian companies will stop profiting from human rights and environmental harm and will alter their actions in the face of potential consequences.

This type of legislation is in development or in place in numerous countries, but in Canada, companies are encouraged to voluntarily adopt measures promoting human rights and the good of the environment instead of legally obligated to impose such measures.

Certain civil society and union leaders were speakers during the virtual press conference, including

Emily Dwyer, national coordinator of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability; Evelyne Beaudoin, president of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace; Ken Neumann, national director for Canada at United Steelworkers; Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general at Amnesty International Canada; Karen Hamilton, interim director of Above Ground; and Kalpona Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity.

The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, established in 2005, is the national coordination body for civil society groups and labour unions aiming to promote business and human rights in the country and is made up of 39 environmental and human rights non-governmental organizations, religious organizations, labour unions and solidarity groups.

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