Last fall MCC Canada wrapped up our Mining Justice Campaign. Last month I resigned from the Executive Committee of the Centre for Excellence in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). These two actions were not related.
It’s true that MCC will not be able to devote as much attention to mining issues as we have over the past three years. However, given the global impact of Canadian mining companies—and the priority the Government of Canada has given this sector in its approach to foreign policy—our work for mining justice will continue.
The Centre for Excellence in CSR would seem to be a valuable tool for this work. Hosted by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), the Centre aims to offer a forum where the extractive industry, government, and civil society can obtain timely access to high-quality CSR information and, in so doing, raise the bar for excellence in CSR-related practices.
Why then am I leaving it behind? As noted in a public statement released by a network of civil society organizations on February 14:
For the past three years several member organizations of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) have participated in the Executive Committee of the Centre for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). These organizations were the United Steelworkers, MiningWatch Canada, Mennonite Central Committee Canada, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives and Amnesty International Canada.
In the last few weeks each of those organizations has ended their participation in the Centre. The Government of Canada’s termination of funding for the Centre at the end of March 2012 was a major factor in the decision of each organization to leave.
The Centre for Excellence was established as part of the Government of Canada’s “Building the Canadian Advantage” CSR strategy launched in 2009. Despite serious concerns about that strategy, several members of civil society decided to participate in the Centre for Excellence because we believed that the multi-stakeholder dialogue space might provide an important opportunity to move forward the debate on human rights and business in the extractive sector and to improve the practise of Canadian extractive companies.
The CNCA members previously involved in the Centre for Excellence remain committed to multi-stakeholder dialogue, and are receptive to other avenues that may provide for a more solid platform than that offered by the unfunded Centre for Excellence.
In short, this particular Centre for Excellence has failed to live up to its promise. Given that the mandate of the Ottawa Office is to relate to the federal government, our participation doesn’t make much sense if the government is not at the table in a meaningful way.
This is not to diminish the significance of opportunities to engage with mining industry representatives. And it is not to diminish the good intentions of government observers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian International Development Agency, and Natural Resources Canada. Indeed, I wish those intending to continue with this effort well.
I should also be clear that I find this outcome quite disappointing on a personal level. After all, I didn’t attend a dozen Executive Committee meetings and help plan a couple of workshops over the past few years for no reason.
I remain convinced that real progress can be made when the concerns of all stakeholders are considered.
I remain convinced that we should welcome opportunities to talk with the people we disagree with.
And I earnestly hope that the communities MCC and our coalition partners work with will one day associate the word “excellence” with Canadian mining companies. But that will require a long term commitment, not just a name.
By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director