Ottawa’s responsible mining review awaited by NGOs – by Trinh Theresa Do (CBC News Politics – February 26, 2014)

Review of Canada’s corporate social responsibility strategy likely won’t recommend mining ombudsman

The federal government’s five-year review of Canada’s corporate social responsibility strategy for the mining, oil and gas industry is expected to be released as early as next week.

But documents obtained by CBC News suggest the long-anticipated report is unlikely to recommend the creation of a legislated ombudsman who would investigate complaints and oversee the activities of the extractive sector.

It’s something non-governmental organizations have been calling for since 2007, without success. The international trade minister’s office would not provide any details as to what the review, which began last September, would entail, saying only that it is “ongoing.”

The government has made it clear, however, it prefers voluntary initiatives over mandatory mechanisms. In a letter contained in documents obtained through an Access to Information request, International Trade Minister Ed Fast responds to a call for an industry ombudsman by emphasizing “the government’s support for voluntary mechanisms for dispute resolution.”

“The use of voluntary initiatives, based on internationally recognized standards, can be effective in resolving issues of mutual concern, and can advance public policy objectives in a more flexible, expeditious and less costly way than regulatory or legislative regimes,” he wrote.

The government’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, dubbed Building the Canadian Advantage, was launched in March 2009 to help Canadian mining, oil and gas companies improve their competitive advantage abroad “by enhancing their ability to manage social and environmental risks.”

As part of the mandated five-year review, the government is carrying out consultations with various stakeholders across the country.

On Dec. 12, 2013, Fast held a meeting with 13 non-governmental organizations to solicit feedback for the review.

The consultation was run by parliamentary secretary Erin O’Toole, and, according to NGO representatives who attended, lasted about an hour. Each organization was given about three minutes to present their comments, which addressed the four pillars of the CSR strategy.

In 2009 the government had adopted the following strategies:

Support governance-building in host countries to reduce poverty through development assistance.

Endorse and promote international CSR guidelines.

Support development of a centre for excellence in CSR.

Create the office of the extractive sector CSR counsellor.

But some in attendance weren’t satisfied with the consultation, noting its brevity.

“I’d say others were happy to be invited to give comments and they felt their comments were heard,” said Jeff Geipel, venture leader at Engineers Without Borders.

But he added, “They might have wanted more time for input.”

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