January 17, 2018 / 5:14 PM / a year ago

Canada creates watchdog to oversee companies' conduct abroad

Jan 17 (Reuters) - Canada said on Wednesday it is creating an independent watchdog to monitor and investigate human rights abuses by its companies operating abroad, describing it as the first initiative of its kind in the world.

Canada’s mining, oil and gas sectors had been expecting Ottawa to announce an ombudsman to keep tabs on their offshore business, a move that environmental and human rights groups have long demanded.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party made a campaign promise in 2015 to appoint such a watchdog.

Non-government groups have called for years for greater oversight of Canadian mining companies abroad following a number of environmental incidents and accusations of human rights abuses, including that of forced labor at Canadian miner Nevsun Resources’ mine in Eritrea. Nevsun has denied the allegations.

The office, to be named the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, will initially focus on the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors, but is expected to be expanded to other business sectors within a year of the Ombudsperson taking office, international trade minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a statement.

Its mandate will be to help solve disputes or conflicts between communities and Canadian companies, the statement said.

Trudeau’s predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper, established a Corporate Social Responsibility Counselor in 2009, but critics have said it is toothless as the office focuses mainly on facilitating dialogue between companies and affected communities. (Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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