In what appears to be a misguided attempt to address a complex issue, a member of the Canadian Parliament recently introduced a private member’s bill seeking to punish Canadian companies for violating undefined environmental and human rights standards abroad.

Bill C-300 (An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries) is punitive in nature and based on the premise that Canadian mining activities abroad are inconsistent with international social and environmental best practices and with Canada’s commitments to human rights.

The Bill if passed would oblige a Minister of the Government of Canada to investigate any complaint received, no matter where it arises, about the operations of Canadian companies abroad. A company found to have violated any of the (undefined) social and environmental guidelines, could lose all of its government funding and consular support. The Bill as introduced lacks any procedural protections for Canadian companies or the Ministers investigating them, while allowing complainants to act with impunity. It also raises the significant problem of Canada’s capacity, expertise or jurisdiction to enforce corporate social responsibility (CSR) guidelines abroad or to supersede local authorities, which is why no other country in the world has legislation like Bill C-300 in place.

The Bill if passed would effectively preempt the Canadian Government’s own comprehensive CSR Strategy for the International Extractive Sector released in March, 2009, which represents the culmination of three years of consultations involving experts and stakeholders from a variety of fields, including foreign policy, the environment, industry, human rights and sustainable development. By contrast the authors of Bill C-300 failed to undertake any consultation with industry, or domestic or foreign government officials. It is difficult to see how the two could coexist.

Canada is recognized internationally as a leader in CSR and its companies are preferred investors all over the world. The Bill’s passage could instantly erase much of that goodwill.