Blog Entry

Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy Up in the Air Yet Again

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D. Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator

The federal government is engaged in a review of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy for the international operations of the Canadian extractive sector. As part of this review, MiningWatch was invited to participate in a civil society roundtable consultation hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), as well as in an in-depth interview by the Department’s Office of Audit, Evaluation and Inspection; both meetings were in December 2013. In a brief subsequently submitted to DFATD, MiningWatch set out in greater detail why the government’s CSR strategy is failing to meet its stated goals.

The Government of Canada’s CSR Strategy for the Extractive Sector, launched in 2009 as Building the Canadian Advantage: A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector, purports to address three key areas:

  1. increasing development benefits associated with mining, primarily through support for host country capacity-building initiatives related to resource governance and for host countries to benefit from these resources to reduce poverty;
  2. providing remedy to those who have been harmed by the activities of Canadian extractive companies operating overseas, via the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor; and
  3. promoting voluntary corporate social responsibility guidelines and tools, through the CSR Counsellor as well as via promoting voluntary international CSR performance guidelines – the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, and the Global Reporting Initiative – in addition to the development of a Centre for Excellence in CSR.

The government’s failure to meet even these modest goals result from the fact that they are subservient to its prevailing economic objectives, prioritizing the promotion and protection of the interests of Canadian extractive companies operating overseas. This focus on promoting corporate interests is responsible for key flaws of the Strategy, such as its entirely voluntary nature, the weak mandate of the CSR Counsellor, and the use of Official Development Assistance as a corporate subsidy and to support the social acceptability or “social licence” of Canadian companies’ operations.

The Canadian government’s failure to address and remedy the harmful economic, environmental, and human rights impacts of mining in developing countries will ensure increased opposition to Canadian mining companies and increased conflict at mine sites – the very issues the CSR Strategy was supposed to address.

For more on these failures see:

Coumans, Catherine. Ottawa Citizen. October 31, 2013. Op-Ed: Canada needs effective mining oversight.

Coumans, Catherine. October, 2012. "Mining and Access to Justice: From Sanction and Remedy to Weak Non-Judicial Grievance Mechanisms" in The University of British Columbia Law Review. 45 U.B.C. L. Rev. 651;

MiningWatch Canada. March, 2011. Concerns with regard to the mandate and review procedure of the Office of the Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor for the Government of Canada.

Coumans, Catherine. December 2013. Mining and development – how much will it cost us to clothe the naked emperor? In MiningWatch Canada Newsletter Fall/Winter 2013.

MiningWatch Canada. 2012. Brief prepared for the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development’s Study on the Role of the Private Sector in Achieving Canada’s International Development Interests. Questioning CIDA’s Partnerships with Mining Companies given the Role of Mining in the Creation of Development Deficits.

Coumans, Catherine, 2011. "Whose Development? Mining, Local Resistance and Development Agendas" in Governance Ecosystems: CSR in the Latin American Mining Sector. Julia Sagebien and Nicole Marie Lindsay (eds.) Palgrave Macmillan. U.K.