What we heard report – Canada’s strategy for responsible business conduct abroad
Since 2009, the federal government has prioritized strengthening the responsible business conduct of Canadian companies active around the world through the release of two strategies: Building the Canadian Advantage: Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector(2009) and Doing Business the Canadian Way: A Strategy to Advance Corporate Social Responsibility in Canada’s Extractive Sector (2014). Following an evaluation of the 2014 strategy, Global Affairs Canada began the process to renew Canada’s approach to responsible business conduct abroad for the five-year period of 2021-2026.
Responsible business conduct is at the nexus of many priorities for Canada such as the respect for human rights, taking action on climate change, inclusive trade, upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples and amplifying our feminist international assistance policy. Through multiple government departments, more than 50 policies and initiatives address and promote one form or another of responsible businesses conduct and corporate sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic has also reinforced the importance of integrating sound responsible business conduct practices throughout a company’s operations. A robust approach to responsible business conduct helps ensure companies can be resilient, adapt to change, and weather the challenges presented by the changing economic environment.
How we reached out and how participants responded
Global Affairs Canada undertook two rounds of stakeholder engagement with the objective of sparking a dialogue and exploring ideas and measures to position Canada, and Canadian companies active abroad, as leaders in responsible business conduct. The first round of engagements consisted of a roundtable session in Gatineau, Quebec, and a series of group and individual interviews, involving a diverse range of stakeholders from across Canada (additional group sessions were moved to an online format given the COVID-19 pandemic). Input received in March led to the development of an issue paper , which helped guide a second round of wider public engagement, that took place from 16 September to 26 October via the Consulting with Canadians website.
While the first round of engagement aimed to set an aspirational vision for Canada, the second round sought ideas about how Canada could:
- Contribute to a strengthened and inclusive Responsible Business Conduct environment globally
- Work with diverse stakeholders to create an enabling environment to ensure that Canadian companies achieve and exceed responsible business conduct best practices;
- Enhance accountability through providing access to dispute resolution, dialogue, recourse and remedy
- Develop tools, incentives and partnerships that the Government could support to further responsible business conduct abroad
- Contribute to key international frameworks, standards and guidelines that Canada could consider promoting or adopting which focus solely on, or intersect with responsible business conduct
Global Affairs Canada is pleased to have heard from a range of stakeholders representing industry and industry associations, civil society, academia and experts from across the country. Officials reached out to specific groups for their views, including Indigenous Peoples, women and youth. There were over 40 written submissions, many on behalf of associations and industry groups, that reflected significant effort and represented the breadth and depth of public interest in responsible business conduct-related issues. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share views and ideas.
It is important to note that input was wide-ranging, broad-based, and some views divergent. This report aims to reflect the essence of the ideas and perspectives raised, but does not attempt to include every comment received and it does not intend to imply consensus on the part of all participants. Please note that the views expressed are those of participants in the engagement process and should not be construed as representative of the Government of Canada's positions or views.
Here are the main highlights that emerged in our discussions with participants:
- Aligning the strategy with intersecting commitments: Participants affirmed the need to incorporate wider sustainability considerations into the strategy, for example, through aligning it with Canada’s commitments on Climate Change, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- Policy Coherence: We heard the importance of working with other federal government departments in areas that cross our respective mandates, such as those related to human rights, the environment, gender equality, supply chains, or domestic legislation.
- Moving beyond the extractive sector, with an enhanced focus on the impact of technology: Participants expressed strong support for creating a strategy that expands beyond the previous strategy’s focus on the extractive sector. Many participants also underscored the need for the strategy to be adaptable and reflective of the evolving technology landscape in Canada and abroad, giving specific consideration to the impact of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence.
- Equity considerations: Participants emphasized how integral gender, diversity and inclusion lenses are in the creation of an equitable strategy that meets the discrete needs of our many stakeholders. There was additional emphasis on developing a strategy that reflected the realities and needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as Indigenous peoples, women, and children.
- Compliance and accountability: We heard the importance of compliance and accountability – and a variety of ideas about the approach Canada should take ranging from a need for stronger, mandatory measures, to an incentive and voluntary-based approach allowing for more creativity and innovation. We also heard ideas about tying Government of Canada program funding to responsible business conduct practices undertaken by a company, particularly with respect to reporting on responsible business conduct practices.
- Bringing stakeholders together: We heard the value of Global Affairs Canada bringing together diverse stakeholders though the facilitation of multi-stakeholder dialogue and that there is a need for different parts of the Department and our missions abroad to work together to achieve positive responsible business conduct outcomes.
- Dispute Resolution Mechanisms: We heard the importance of providing adequate resources and tools to Canada’s two dispute resolution mechanisms, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise and the National Contact Point for Responsible Business Conduct.
- Business Case for Responsible Business Conduct: We heard that many participants believe there is a strong business case for responsible business conduct, and that Canadian companies who integrate strong social, environmental and governance policies into their operations can perform better than those who don’t, while positively impacting the communities where they are active.
A variety of other ideas and themes emerged in the responses we received that were not listed above, but will help us to inform our strategy moving forward.
The input we received will help to inform the development of Canada’s new strategy for responsible business conduct abroad. Global Affairs Canada looks forward to continuing conversations with Canadians throughout the development and implementation of the new strategy.