CORE: New Federal Office to Investigate Human Rights Complaints Against Canadian Multinationals

February 2, 2018
  • Canadian mining, oil & gas and garment sector businesses will soon be subject to human rights investigations by an independent federal office to be known as the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE).
  • CORE’s mandate is restricted to alleged human rights abuses by Canadian companies in their international operations.
  • CORE is intended to have stronger investigatory powers, and to act more publicly, than the existing Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor.
  • Canada is reportedly the first country in the world to establish an independent office of this kind.

Procedure and Powers of CORE

In his January 17, 2018 announcement, the Minister of International Trade provided significant insight into the mandates of CORE and an Advisory Panel that is being established to support it. While some details are still TBA, the following are some of CORE’s key features:

  • CORE will receive complaints (including via an online portal), undertake investigations, recommend solutions and monitor companies’ implementation of its recommendations.
  • It will not require a complaint to initiate an investigation and will be given the necessary funding to conduct complex investigations.
  • It will not require the co-operation of a corporation in order to proceed with an investigation.
  • It will be able to compel witnesses and the production of documents.
  • Its investigations will the “transparent”, including public reporting during and after an investigation.
  • While CORE will initially focus on the extractive and garment sectors, it is intended to expand its reach to other sectors within one year.

Consequences and Possible Sanctions

CORE will have a number of enforcement options, including the following:

  • It can refer any complaint that raises potential criminal liability issues to the RCMP or other appropriate law enforcement agency.
  • It can make public recommendations – including compensation, an apology, mitigation measures, corporate policy changes and others – and monitor subsequent compliance.
  • It can recommend the withdrawal of federal supports, such as trade advocacy and Export Development Corporation (EDC) assistance. (This can also be recommended if a company fails to co-operate in an investigation.)

Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct

A new Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct, which will include stakeholders from industry and other interested persons, will advise the Government on the development of CORE’s mandate as well as more generally on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in multinational contexts.

Relationship to Other Government Offices

CSR issues beyond Canada’s borders are currently dealt with by two federal offices, the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor (CSR Counsellor) and the Canadian National Contact Point (NCP). We understand that they will be affected as follows:

  • The CSR Counsellor will be phased out by May 2018.
  • The NCP will continue to fulfil its mandate to facilitate discussion and mediation in all sectors as required under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Conclusion and Timeline

In general, CORE represents an attempt to overcome what was widely seen as the weak statutory mandate of the CSR Counsellor, who was required to rely on the co-operation of the companies he was investigating. Global Affairs Canada plans to open the application process for the Ombudsperson position – a five-year appointment – in the coming weeks and intends to have CORE up and running within a few months.

For More Information

For further information, please see the Government of Canada’s News Release and Backgrounder, as well as its detailed Q&A.

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