Tuesday, August 19, 2008
At the Corporate Counsel Association Annual Meeting in Quebec City, Supreme Court of Canada Judge Ian Binnie issued a call for Canadian multi-national corporations to pay more attention to human rights abuses in Third World countries where they operate. This speech was a humble one and with heartfelt words, a challenge was given. Judge Binnie urged lawyers with the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association to persuade their employers to show a greater sense of global responsibility.
Some of the sound bites include:
- “Why it is that, although the economic aspects of globalization - trade aspects, labour aspects, the investment aspects, the commercial arbitration aspects - are well looked after, human rights lag as an object of corporate attention?”
- “I believe there is an important role here for corporate Canada-and I hope a lot of you will do your best to get your clients to put their shoulder to the wheel,”
- “The interaction between the economies of the first world and the economies of the third world are growing. Your people have their act together. The legal system doesn't. Progress is made in a patchwork kind of way. There is no coherent legal structure.”
- “It is an enormous web of corporate activity across the globe which is not matched by any legal structure. The global economy is divided into all these national jurisdictions that sometimes have a great deal of trouble - and control is required.”
- “These countries compete ferociously for investment, they compete for jobs, they compete for ways to improve their standard of living, and they are in no mood to bring down the hammer on companies which carry on in those jurisdictions differently than they do at home”
- “There are people in the country who are fully supportive, because they are looking for jobs or economic improvement. But if you area mine or a pipeline, people are going to be displaced - and they are unlikely to get much compensation. So you have internal conflict which, the country inviting in the multinational sometimes represses with more violence than I'm sure the multinational in general regards as acceptable.”
These words from a Supreme Court judge are important. I am proud that a Canadian Supreme Court judge stood up and gave this speech. The question is whether corporate counsel can undertake this enormous task.
Cyndee Todgham Cherniak