UN mining group looks at Canadian industry abuses

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In one recent example of the NGO Mining Working Group's work, the body focused on Canada, whose human rights record was up for review in 2015 by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Committee.

The NGO Mining Working Group's main focus was on Canada's responsibility for abuses related to Canadian mining industry operations outside of Canada and the rights of indigenous people within the country, said Sr. Áine O'Connor, who coordinates the U.N. work of the Sisters of Mercy and the Mercy International Association.

NGO Mining Working Group members submitted documentation to the U.N. panel and members of the group participated in the U.N. review, held in June and July of 2015.

The review's outcome "was very positive" in addressing the group's concerns, O'Connor said. The U.N. committee "was unequivocal in addressing Canada's responsibility for abuses committed by its mining sector abroad."

The United Nations body expressed "serious concern about Canada's failure to regulate the activities of its corporations operating abroad and the limitations on victims' ability to seek justice in Canadian courts," she said.

The U.N. committee recommended to Canada that it "ensure that all Canadian corporations . . . in particular mining corporations, respect human rights standards when operating abroad"; consider setting up an independent body to investigate corporate human rights abuses committed abroad; and ensure that Canadian law allows victims abroad to seek legal remedies in Canada for abuses by Canadian corporations.

O'Connor called this "an important advance in terms of international law, with the committee so clearly affirming a state's obligation for abuses committed outside its borders — what is called 'extraterritorial obligations.'"

Diana Khaddaj, a spokesperson for the Canada Government, told GSR that the government is "actively reassessing Canada's corporate social responsibility practices."

"We are committed to demonstrating real leadership around the world on corporate social responsibility," she said. "Canadians expect our businesses operating abroad to respect human rights, labor rights, all applicable laws, and to conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally responsible manner."

Several members of the NGO Mining Working Group have religious congregations active in addressing extractive industry abuses and fracking concerns in Canada, O'Connor said, as well as in countries where Canadian mining companies operate.

UNANIMA International, a U.N.-based coalition of Catholic congregations focused on concerns of women and children, has a number of congregations, including the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, addressing concerns around extracting practices in Canada. The Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland are involved in similar activism.

[Chris Herlinger is GSR's international correspondent. His email address is cherlinger@ncronline.org.]