In February 2009, the Hon. John McKay introduced a private bill, C-300, "An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries".
That is Parliament-speak for making resource companies respect human rights when they plan foreign development. If they don't, they will be ineligible for federal support or funding for their ventures.
For guidelines, Bill C-300 relies on existing international human rights standards. It also creates mechanism whereby complaints about companies that don't comply can made to Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the federal government will have the power to investigate. A company found to be violating international human rights standards would be denied political and economic help from federal departments such as Export Development Canada, the Canada Pension Plan and Foreign Affairs and International trade.
Two things … no, three … come to my mind.
First, mining has such a low profile in the public mind that it has taken eight months for reaction to the bill to surface.
Two, this is going to be a hot button topic for many years. Now that NGOs and human rights organizations are involved, they will press the issue.
Three, there is no mechanism for discouraging vexatious complaints. I hope multiple investigations can't be used to harass and annoy mining companies who do meet or exceed the accepted human rights standards.
Bill C-300 passed first reading in April. That doesn't mean it will become law. Private members' bills rarely make it that far.
The intent of the bill is a good one. People in developing countries must be treated with respect and offered opportunities to improve their education, health and living standards. Barrick, for one, does an excellent job in this regard. Every mining company exploring or operating in a foreign country could learn from that example. Such programs take money, and unfortunately not every company has the deep pockets that Barrick does. Nor do they all have management that puts a priority on corporate social responsibility.
I'm not sure I agree with the mechanics of Bill C-300. I would rather see the federal government reward the companies that are socially responsible rather than withdrawing support where that support might allow a company to complete social initiatives.