Earlier this week, Canada’s Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor tabled its first annual report in Parliament. The establishment of the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor is one of four pillars of Canada’s 2009 CSR strategy for the Canadian international extractive sector, Building the Canadian Advantage. (The other three pillars are (1) support for resource management and governance capacity building in host countries, (2) promotion of internationally recognized performance and reporting guidelines and standards, and (3) support for the development of a Centre of Excellence for CSR.)
The Office is housed within the federal government and reports to the federal Minister of International Trade. The Office may make recommendations, but has no policy-making role or authority. This is fairly consistent with the Canadian government’s emphasis on voluntary approaches to promote improved corporate responsibility performance by Canadian companies operating abroad.
The report summarizes the activities of the Office over its first year of operation, which included various administrative tasks in establishing the office, informal and formal consultation with stakeholders within and outside of Canada, and development of the process by which the Office will undertake reviews of CSR practices of Canadian companies operating outside of Canada. The report also provides, for context, a short history of the dialogue around CSR as it pertains to the Canadian extractive sector.
The most surprising omission is the lack of any description of the range of sustainability and corporate responsibility issues that most commonly arise in relation to extractive sector operations in developing countries. I can understand why the Office would avoid making any specific reference to past or current allegations levelled against Canadian companies operating abroad. However, the light treatment of environmental and social issues seems out of balance with the description of the economic impact of the sector, the Canadian extractive sector’s leadership in CSR and sustainability initiatives, and the relative influence of Canada’s resource sectors.
Otherwise, the report is a useful read for those engaged in corporate responsibility and sustainability advocacy in the extractive sector in Canada and internationally, if only to better understand where the Office came from and where it’s going in the coming months.