New E.D.C. human-rights policy lacks power, say workers and watchdogs

Export Development Canada is declaring itself a leading human-rights defender, but workers groups and rights' advocates say its new much-awaited policy fell short of what was needed.

The Crown agency that acts as a lender and insurer for Canadian firms operating abroad issued its first standalone human rights policy today, declaring itself to be ``leading the way in the field of business and human rights'' by setting standards for how companies it helps should behave abroad.

The United Steel Workers says the agency did not take advantage of an opportunity to show leadership in global finance, business and human rights.

Above Ground, a non-governmental agency that specializes in tracking human-rights infractions involving businesses, says the EDC deserves credit for trying to move the ball forward but nothing in the new policy is compulsory on itself or any of its corporate clients.

The arrival of the new EDC rights policy comes as Canadian businesses and human-rights advocates await a legal review by International Trade Minister Jim Carr that will determine the powers of the government's new ``ombudsperson for responsible enterprise.''

At issue is whether the new office will have the power to compel companies to co-operate with its investigations by ponying up documents and witnesses.