Penny Collenette is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa and was a senior director of the Prime Minister’s Office for Jean Chrétien.
Back in the day, business simply required a legal license to operate. The “corporate veil” was rarely pierced as management expected to run its operations with little outside interference.
But times have changed and the business model has been forced to reach out, not only to stakeholders, but to civil society. The concept of voluntary corporate social responsibility grew simultaneously with the growth of global supply chains as consumers became aware that cheaper goods often meant the cost of individual safety or health.
In addition, rapid development by multinationals without respectful community consultation led to murder, violence and protests. Today, a social license is slowly becoming a norm, particularly for mining companies who need acceptance from local communities in order to carry out their extractive processes.
Some will argue that the expansion of industry responsibility is disastrous to the business model itself. But most realize profits at the expense of corrupt behaviour, environmental degradation or in violation of human rights are no longer tolerable.
To that end, three consultations regarding the role and activities of corporations, both at home and abroad, are under discussion in Ottawa.
Previous efforts have failed, but the expectations are high for the appointment of an independent ombudsperson for the extractive sector. Long championed by John McKay, MP for Scarborough Guildwood, the anticipation is that the office will be well resourced and have strong investigatory powers.