Crackdown on Canadian firms abroad more P.R. than policy?

New rules aimed at punishing Canadian companies that do bad things overseas seems like a heavy handed solution that doesn't consider the impact on good corporate stewards, Amanda Lang writes.

Tough talk from Ottawa on corporate misdeeds is a solution to a problem we don't have

Corporate crackdown not needed?

8 years ago
Duration 9:02
New rules aimed at punishing Canadian companies that do bad things overseas seem like a heavy-handed solution, Amanda Lang says

There was tough talk from Ottawa today on the conduct of Canadian mining companies abroad aimed at holding companies to our standards of conduct, no matter where they are.

No one would argue that Canada shouldn't hold business to account, but in this case, it feels more like a public relations effort is at the centre: of the thousands of Canadian-run locations, a tiny number have been found to be problematic. This announcement suggests there is a thorny problem to tackle where in fact there may not be much of a problem at all.

It's hard to argue against high standards of behaviour for business — and Canada's reputation to boot — but is it too much to ask that the reputation of our world-class resource companies also be considered? 

- Amanda Lang

The government's new corporate social responsibility strategy was unveiled in Vancouver today, one that's intended to increase the prospect of new business for our resource companies abroad.

Canadian mining and energy companies already have a huge international presence with more than 8,000 properties in more than 100 countries. Already held to Canadian standards abroad through anti-bribery legislation — and more recently, through court rulings that enforce Canadian criminal standards in foreign jurisdictions  — the new rules aim to give new teeth to the Corporate Social Responsibility office.

New real world consequences include possible loss of insurance or lines of credit from Export Development Canada, or loss of support from embassies.

Canada already identifies and holds to account companies that misstep. In 2011, Calgary oil and gas company Niko Resources admitted to bribing a Bangladeshi minister with a luxury SUV and a trip to New York. Last year, oil and gas firm Griffiths Energy was fined $10 million for bribing the wife of Chad's ambassador to Canada. And the story that really threatened to give Canada a bad name — Montreal-based construction and engineering firm SNC Lavalin is still embroiled in a corruption scandal that first surfaced in 2012.

A handful of cases among thousands of companies doing business may not sound like a bad track record.

So why the urge to highlight a problem that doesn't seem like such a big problem? That's exactly what Amanda Lang asked International Trade Minister Ed Fast in an interview on Friday. Click the player above to watch their entire conversation.


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