international human rights

In recent years, Canadian courts have increasingly heard large civil claims against Canadian companies for alleged human rights violations in their foreign operations. As we have discussed previously, judges faced with these claims must determine whether the court’s jurisdictional reach extends to the company’s activities in its global supply chain, thus permitting foreign claimants to pursue their action in Canada.
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On October 6, 2016, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit by Eritrean miners, who allege they were forced to work in a mine owned by Nevsun Resources Ltd, a Canadian mining company, can proceed to trial. Vancouver-based Nevsun had argued that the case should be dismissed and that any suit should be properly heard in Eritrea. Justice Abrioux disagreed, stating that “there is sufficient cogent evidence from which I can conclude that there is a real risk that the plaintiffs could not be provided with justice in Eritrea,” thereby paving the way for an unprecedented trial in a Canadian court. Justice Abrioux stated that “claims of crimes against humanity, slavery, forced labour and torture can go forward against Nevsun.”
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canadian-imports-web-0_jpg_size_custom_crop_850x572Hot off the press. A Report released late last week by World Vision Canada concludes that Canadian consumers are unwittingly buying goods made by child and forced labourers deep in the supply chains of Canadian companies. According to the Report, Canadian businesses regularly import goods from countries with high-rates of child and forced labour, particularly in the following sectors: clothing, retail, food, and electronics.

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We recently discussed the rising number of claims against Canadian companies for alleged human rights violations in their overseas operations or supply chains. In that article we described the ongoing class action lawsuit against Loblaws and Joe Fresh launched by Bangladeshi garment workers in response to the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Click here for a link to the article.

We also commented on a general increase in litigation against Canadian multinational corporations, including the current case against Toronto-based, Hudbay Minerals Inc., which was brought by a group of indigenous Guatemalan Mayans for human rights violations related to a mining venture.

The reputational risks associated with these cases are serious, particularly in the age of online media and investor activism. On April 3, 2016, The New York Times published a front-page article on the Hudbay Minerals Inc. case entitled, ‘Outcry Echoes Up to Canada’.
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