Canadian non-governmental organizations are on their toes as they wait for the five-year federal review of Canada's corporate social responsibility strategy for the mining, oil and gas industry, set to come as early as next week.
Some NGOs are concerned about the very purpose of the strategy (dubbed Building the Canadian Advantage), which is to help Canadian mining, oil and gas companies improve their competitiveness abroad "by enhancing their ability to manage social and environmental risks."
One of the government's key commitments is helping host countries benefit from their natural resources by ensuring long-term development in areas where Canadian companies are operating. That has meant doling out aid dollars through Canada's development agency, formerly known as CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency.
But World Vision is apprehensive about that approach, especially in framing the strategy around "Building the Canadian Advantage," which links foreign aid to benefits for Canadian companies. In its written submission to the government (which it provided to CBC News), the organization notes that "it is likely that trade concerns will trump poverty alleviation.
"We are concerned that the children and communities will be thereby disadvantaged."
World Vision, which received a maximum contribution of $530,000 from CIDA for a development project in partnership with Barrick Gold in Peru, wants Canada to facilitate dispute mechanisms in host countries both at the national and local level, to address conflict and corporate responsibility challenges.
However, MiningWatch Canada is disparaging of such endeavours, as outlined in its own written submission.
"Official development assistance should not be supporting mining-related CSR [corporate social responsibility] projects and partnerships between mining companies and development NGOs that have traditionally been fully funded by mining companies themselves," its submission reads. "This amounts to a subsidy to the mining industry and is not an acceptable use of public funds, or an appropriate use of development assistance."
World Vision and MiningWatch are among a number of NGOs that met with Foreign Affairs this past December to offer feedback on the government's CSR strategy. As part of the review process, the NGOs also submitted written comments.
But the Mining Association of Canada considers CIDA's assistance to have been "effective."
“Companies themselves can be working hard to do the right thing, but they're operating where governance is weak." said president and CEO Pierre Gratton.
Gratton also wants the public to know that, despite obvious problems with the CSR strategy, it's created a "much more heightened awareness" for companies to engage with these social issues than before.
He cites the industry's move to commit to revenue transparency and reporting of payments made to foreign governments, as well as the association's own sustainable mining commitments, which are mandatory for all members.
“The ground has shifted remarkably in a short amount of time,” he said.