Friends of the Earth Canada stands on guard for people and the planet. People from vulnerable communities are often on the front lines, confronting the health and environmental impacts of toxic contaminants from mines and industries. We support environmental justice for communities across Canada, through ground-breaking legal challenges and public education.

Talks on a UN treaty on transnational corporations and human rights in Geneva commenced 23 October 2017

We are urging states to enter constructively on negotiations for a legally binding treaty to hold transnational corporations to account on human rights and environmental abuses.

Friends of the Earth Canada CEO Beatrice Olivastri is attending as part of the Friends of the Earth International delegation.

This will be the third session of the intergovernmental working group (IWG) on transnational corporations and other business enterprises on human rights. Negotiations on the draft text of the Treaty elements are expected and environmental organizations, affected communities and social movements worldwide will be mobilized to monitor the UN process and its outcomes.

The Friends of the Earth International delegation present at the session includes environmental justice activists, human rights defenders and representatives of affected communities from:

Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Finland, France, Honduras, Hungary,
Indonesia, Mozambique, Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden and Uruguay.

Ms. Olivastri requested an opportunity to discuss the talks with the Canadian representative in Geneva, knowing that Canada did not support the resolution that set up these negotiations in 2014.

Lorraine Anderson, First Secretary (Legal Affairs) Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations responded:

As you may know, Canada has not engaged in this working group in the past given, among other things,
concerns with its mandate, the fact that we are not convinced that a treaty is necessary or that it would be the most effective means to achieve its stated goals, and the fact that it could take away from the clarity and consensus achieved through the UNGPs. Canada will not participate in the 3rd OEIWG session and there will no Canadian representative engaged in the meeting this week. As any potential future engagement by Canada in this initiative is unknown at this time, we are not currently in a position to substantively engage on the draft elements.

Thank you for reaching out and should Canada’s position change, we would be happy to substantively
discuss this process and the draft elements with you.

In New York, September 2017:
The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the G77 and China met at the UN in New York on 22 September 2017. They declared their support of the UN working group on the treaty in their Ministerial Declaration:

141.      The Ministers recalled with appreciation the decision of the Human Rights Council, in its resolution 26/9, to establish an Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights, whose mandate is to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate in international human rights law the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises, which held its second session in Geneva in October 2016.

142.      The Ministers urged all Member States to participate actively and constructively in the Third Session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group, that  will be held from 23 to 27 October 2017 in Geneva, where the Chairperson Rapporteur of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group should prepare elements for the draft legally binding for substantive negotiations at the commencement of the third session of the Working Group on the subject, taking into consideration the discussions held at its first two sessions.


1) Website of the IWG on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect
to human rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/WGTransCorp/Pages/IGWGOnTNC.aspx

2) Website of Friends of the Earth work and positions on the UN treaty process and transnational
corporations: http://www.foei.org/what-we- do/un-treaty- on-tncs

3) Human rights abuses by the biggest companies are rife, more than 10 cases available at
Friends of the Earth recent reports:

The Rights of People facing Corporate Power in Latin America (Spanish):
http://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ATALC_espanol_2017- WEB.pdf

Challenging corporate impunity: IFIs Immunity, Corporate Crimes and Environmental Defenders
Protection in Asia Pacific: http://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/APAC_english_2017-WEB.pdf

4) French Law on Duty of Care for Multinationals can show the way forward on the European
context, see report: End of the road for transnational corporations? Human rights and
environment: from a groundbreaking French law to a UN Treaty (French): http://www.amisdelaterre.org/Nouveau-rapport- Fin-de- cavale-pour- les-multinationales- D-une-
loi-pionniere- en.html

5) Website for the Week of Mobilization in Geneva, led by Friends of the Earth member groups
and allies: http://www.stopcorporateimpunity.org/save-date- 2017-will- decisive-year- binding-
treaty-transnational- corporations-human-rights/


Polluter pays: Newfoundland and Labrador v. AbitibiBowater Inc.

The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to announce a decision soon on the case of Newfoundland and Labrador v. AbitibiBowater Inc. et al (now known as Resolute Forest Products).

This ground-breaking legal case represents the first time Canada’s insolvency laws have dealt with the polluter pays principle — in this case, for historic contamination by AbitibiBowater’s mining, shipping and pulp and paper operations in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Friends of the Earth, represented by Ecojustice, intervened to argue that insolvent corporations must fulfill their environmental obligations and not pass the full cost of environmental cleanups on to taxpayers.

Communities are now coping with the toxic legacy of AbitibiBowater’s century of operations in the province. Soil sampling in Grand Falls-Windsor, Stephenville, Botwood and Buchans has revealed the presence of heavy metals, arsenic and other contaminants — threatening the health and environment of people in these communities.

The Court decision will have implications for communities across Canada. Taxpayers should not be left with the high clean-up costs for toxic contamination. If the Supreme Court affirms its strong support for the polluter pays principle, the province will be able to claim the costs of cleaning up the contaminated sites.

Background information

Chronology: Polluter pays: Newfoundland and Labrador v. AbitibiBowater Inc.

Media release: Friends of the Earth, Ecojustice ask Supreme Court to respect polluter pays principle

CBC News: Heavy metals, poisons dot N.L. Abitibi sites

Supreme Court of Canada case information: Factums

Supreme Court of Canada case information: Webcast of the hearing on November 16, 2011

Environmental class action: St. Lawrence Cement Inc. v. Barrette

Background information

Media release: Canada’s top court upholds right to launch environmental class action lawsuits

Communiqué : Le plus haut tribunal au Canada appuie le droit d’intenter des recours collectifs en matière d’environnement

Media release: Groups intervene in Canada’s top court to protect right to launch environmental class action lawsuits

Communiqué : Intervention en Cour suprême du Canada de groupes environnementaux soucieux de préserver le droit au recours collectif en matière environnementale


Dirty deal: Irving oil refinery exempted from environmental impact assessment

Background information

Media release: Lawsuit challenges Baird over proposed Irving oil refinery

Media release: Dirty deal: Environment Minister exempts Canadian refinery from environmental impact assessment