Breaking new ground on corporate social responsibility
GERRY BARR and GORDON PEELING AND ROBERT WALKER
Special to Globe and Mail Update
After 10 months of hard work, representatives of the mining and oil and gas sectors, civil society, academia, labour and socially responsible investors have reached an unprecedented consensus on a Canadian corporate social responsibility framework. Why is this important? Because Canada's extractive sector is big, its reach is global and, in recent years, the performance of several companies has come under close scrutiny — and been found wanting. There have been allegations of complicity in human-rights violations, land-use conflicts and environmental disasters. Industry's reputation has been tarnished and so has Canada's face to the world.
Demands for higher standards of industry conduct have come both from both within the industry and beyond. Under the leadership of the federal government, a series of roundtables were held in 2006, bringing together experts from Canada and around the world to explore these important issues. Despite sometimes very different ideas and perspectives, it became quickly apparent that participants held the shared objective of improved corporate social responsibility performance. The job then became to develop a comprehensive framework to make this happen.
Implementation of the CSR framework will take time and the ongoing commitment of all stakeholders. It will require leadership from the government. But the promised outcomes are compelling.
Adoption of the framework, the first of its kind in the world, will establish Canada as a global leader in CSR. It will lead to extractive projects that are more socially and environmentally responsible, and help to distinguish our extractive sectors as investors of choice in developing countries. The central recommendation in the report urges the government, in co-operation with key stakeholders, to adopt a set of standards that Canadian extractive-sector companies operating abroad will meet and to reinforce them through appropriate reporting, compliance and other mechanisms. This approach will simultaneously raise the bar and level the playing field.