Human Rights

Businesses have an important role to play in respecting human rights, as articulated in the ground-breaking work done by John Ruggie and his team when they put together the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). Respecting Human Rights is one of eight key pillars of PDAC’s principles and guidance notes, a resource that dates back to 2009 and continues to be a pillar of PDAC’s current advocacy efforts. The UNGP formed the basis for the human rights chapter of Driving Responsible Exploration - DRE (formerly known as e3 Plus), which was last updated in 2014.

In addition to clarifying the role of business, the UNGP also clarified that the primary responsibility for protecting human rights lies with states. This work distinguished between the role of ‘host states’ (i.e. the countries in which Canadian companies operate) and ‘home states’ (i.e. the countries in which exploration and mining companies are head-quartered/listed).

Canada, as a home-state, has formally acknowledged its responsibility to encourage Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) abroad and has committed to a 5-year strategy (2022-2027) on this topic. The balanced approach to RBC includes prevention, access to remedy and targeted legislation.

Human Rights Guidance in DRE’s Social Responsibility Toolkit

DRE’s Principles and Guidance Notes

Human Rights Reporting

With prevention as the first pillar, Canada passed Bill S-211 in 2023: An Act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act. This act mandates transparency in supply chains, including mineral exploration. Entities are required to report on efforts to prevent and reduce the risk of forced labour or child labour from their structure, activities, and supply networks. This includes answering a questionnaire detailing policies, due diligence processes, and actions taken to ensure ethical practices in mineral exploration, promoting accountability and responsible sourcing.

Entities must conduct thorough evaluations to identify and mitigate these risks, as well as to provide training and remediation. Mineral exploration companies are encouraged to communicate with their suppliers, investors, and relevant partners to foster a shared commitment to eradicating modern slavery. This collaborative approach not only enhances awareness but also encourages continuing responsibility in the downstream stages.

Reporting Requirements

Completing the online questionnaire on or before May 31st of each calendar year is mandatory for entities that produces, sells, or distributes goods in Canada or elsewhere; imports goods into Canada; or controls an entity that does so. The Act defines an entity as a corporation or a trust, partnership or other unincorporated organization that either:

  1. is listed on a stock exchange in Canada; or
  2. has a place of business in Canada, does business in Canada or has assets in Canada and that, based on its consolidated financial statements, and meets at least two of the following conditions for at least one of its two most recent financial years:
    1. it has at least $20 million in assets,
    2. it has generated at least $40 million in revenue, and
    3. it employs an average of at least 250 employees.

Mandatory disclosure includes:

  • The steps the entity has taken during its previous financial year to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used at any step of the production of goods in Canada or elsewhere by the entity or of goods imported into Canada by the entity
  • Its structure, activities and supply chains
  • Its policies and due diligence processes in relation to forced labour and child labour
  • The parts of its business and supply chains that carry a risk of forced labour or child labour being used and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk
  • Any measures taken to remediate any forced labour or child labour
  • Any measures taken to remediate the loss of income to the most vulnerable families that results from any measure taken to eliminate the use of forced labour or child labour in its activities and supply chains
  • The training provided to employees on forced labour and child labour
  • How the entity assesses its effectiveness in ensuring that forced labour and child labour are not being used in its business and supply chains

Access to Remedy

A key component of the UNGP, is the concept of access to remedy; creating opportunities for communities outside of Canada that believe they have been negatively impacted by Canadian companies abroad to raise their concerns, and have those concerns responded to by Canada. There are currently three mechanisms through which communities outside of Canada can seek ‘access to remedy’.  Two mechanisms are non-judicial in nature, namely the Office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) which was established in 2018 through an Order in Council and the National Contact Point (NCP) system Canada established forty years ago as a signatory to the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The third is judicial, namely the Canadian courts as a forum for filing complaints against Canadian companies.

The CORE operates at arm’s length from Global Affairs Canada and is mandated to: promote the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Guidelines; advise Canadian companies on RBC-related policies and practices; review allegations of human rights abuses arising from the operations of a Canadian company abroad in the mining, oil and gas or garment sectors; offer informal mediation services; and, provide advice to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade on any matter relating to the CORE’s mandate. The CORE can receive complaints; initiate joint and independent reviews; issue and follow-up on recommendations; and publish reports.

Learn more about the CORE