The United Nations Working Group on business and human rights has urged the Canadian authorities and business sector to step up their efforts to prevent and address adverse human rights impacts of business activities, both at home and abroad.
The Group which ended their ten-day visit today to cities across Canada which included Williams Lake in regards to the 2014 Mt. Polley tailings pond breach, also called for meaningful consultation and engagement with indigenous peoples.
“As Canada seeks to advance the monumental task of reconciliation with indigenous communities, and create a new nation-to-nation relationship based on equal respect and dignity, the Government and businesses must integrate indigenous peoples’ rights into their policies and practices governing the exploitation of natural resources,” said human rights expert Surya Deva, vice-chairperson of the Working Group.
“Meaningful consultation and holistic impact assessment can be a driving force behind the righting of wrongs committed in the past,” he added.
He highlighted international standards which needed to be adhered to, including the principle of free prior and informed consent under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the concept of human rights due diligence under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The delegation also stressed that human rights defenders and environmentalists had to be protected from harassment and violence, not only in Canada but also in countries where Canadian companies were operating.
“It is imperative that both Government authorities and businesses show leadership and take a clear stance that attacks on individuals and communities will not be tolerated,” said Anita Ramasastry, the other member of the Working Group’s delegation. “The Canadian Government’s new policy guidelines on supporting human rights defenders – Voices at Risk – is a promising first step in this regard.”
The experts also noted and welcomed positive moves to promote gender equality. “We are encouraged to see that there is a strong commitment to advancing women’s roles in society throughout Canada and within the private sector,” said Ms. Ramasastry.
During their visit, the experts met officials including the Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor and the National Contact Point (NCP) to discuss ways of ensuring that victims of human rights abuses had sufficient access to systems which addressed their needs.
“We acknowledge the efforts of the Government to provide remedies, but feel there are still significant gaps that need to be addressed, as victims of rights abuses still struggle to access adequate and timely remedies,” said Mr. Deva.
The Working Group’s final report, including findings and key recommendations, will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018.
(Files from United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)