Canada’s extra-territorial human rights obligations scrutinized

The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights welcomes the incorporation of extra-territorial human rights obligations (ETOs) in Canada’s most recent periodic review by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, reaffirmed that the ETO to protect requires States to:  (1) regulate its transnational corporations for activities abroad to ensure that they do not violate Covenant rights; and (2) to ensure access to accountability mechanisms and remedies in the event of such violations.  The Committee added that the ETO to protect also requires that those corporations “conduct human rights impact assessments prior to making investment decisions.

The Committee, however, went further with a welcomed focus on the ETO to fulfill.  There, the Committee expressed its concern “about the lack of impact assessments explicitly taking into account human rights prior to the negotiation of international trade and investments agreements” and for the first time stated that the Covenant requires “that trade and investment agreements negotiated by Canada recognize the primacy of Canada’s international human rights over investors’ interests, so that the introduction of investor-State dispute settlement procedures shall not create obstacles to the full realization of Covenant rights.”

The relevant Concluding Observations reads:

“15.    The Committee is concerned that the conduct of corporations registered or domiciled in the State party and operating abroad are, on occasions, negatively impacting on the enjoyment of Covenant rights by local populations. The Committee is also concerned about the limited access to judicial remedies before courts in the State party by victims and that existing non-judicial remedial mechanisms, such as the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor have not always been effective. The Committee is further concerned about the lack of impact assessments explicitly taking into account human rights prior to the negotiation of international trade and investments agreements.

16.      The Committee recommends that the State party strengthen its legislation governing the conduct of corporations registered or domiciled in the State party in their activities abroad, including by requiring these corporations to conduct human rights impact assessments prior to making investment decisions. It also recommends that the State party introduce effective mechanisms to investigate complaints filed against these corporations, and adopt the necessary legislative measures so as to facilitate access to justice before domestic courts by victims of these corporations’ conduct. The Committee further recommends that the State party ensure that trade and investment agreements negotiated by Canada recognize the primacy of Canada’s international human rights obligations over investors’ interests, so that the introduction of investor-State dispute settlement procedures shall not create obstacles to the full realization of Covenant rights.”

The full Concluding Observations are available HERE.

The GI-ESCR Parallel Report on ETOs is available HERE.

A collection of UN pronouncements on ETOs can be found HERE.

Categories Uncategorized | Tags: | Posted on March 15, 2016

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