top of page

Unmasking the Environmental and Human Rights Threats of Canadian Corporations

Despite its promises, Canada rejects key recommendations on the framework of the Universal Periodic Review and remains a threat to human rights and the environment

By Amazon Watch

Gabriela Sarmet, Sofía Jarrín Hidalgo, and Gisela Hurtado-Barboza | Campaign Update

May 7, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

Canada, despite self-promoting as a nation that respects human rights, demonstrated a lack of commitment to effective corporate accountability after its evaluation in the 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. Contrary to upholding Indigenous rights, Canada rejected crucial recommendations regarding the regulation of its companies operating in Latin America and the Caribbean. This refusal highlights the role of Canadian extractive industries in contributing to environmental destruction and human rights violations across Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly in the Amazon.

On November 10, 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed Canada’s record and issued strong recommendations. These recommendations were a result of a coalition of 50 civil society organizations led by Amazon Watch, and extensive advocacy efforts in Geneva in August 2023. The recommendations address various areas including business and human rights, Indigenous rights, climate change, environmental health, and extraterritorial obligations. Preceding the review, the coalition had released a comprehensive report titled “Unmasking Canada: Rights Violations Across Latin America,” documenting a pattern of human rights violations perpetrated by Canadian extractive companies across the region.  

In an effort to ensure those recommendations do not merely linger on paper, Amazon Watch and various civil society organizations issued a joint statement calling for Canada to accept them all. Despite this, out of the 34 recommendations outlined in the Unmasking Canada campaign, 20 were accepted, three were partially accepted, and 11 were rejected. 

Analysis of Canada’s reaction to the 34 recommendations during the Universal Periodic Review

While Amazon Watch, civil society representatives, and Indigenous representatives celebrate Canada’s acceptance of 20 recommendations, the partial acceptance of three recommendations and rejection of 11 key recommendations reflects a reluctance to fully respect Indigenous rights. 

Among the partially accepted recommendations are to “[a]dopt measures to mitigate the negative environmental impact of operations with fossil fuels, paying special attention to ecosystems of great importance such as the Amazon and glaciers,” and to “adopt measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and phase out the use of fossil fuels to ensure the protection of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, and continue to advocate for the full promotion of this right internationally and regionally.” Canada’s response emphasizing net-zero emissions and not immediately phasing out fossil fuels, raises concerns that it may exacerbate Indigenous rights violations with the expansion of mining projects, especially on the Amazon, and contribute to greenwashing practices. 

Additionally, we have significant concerns regarding the rejected recommendations, which urged for structural reforms to bring real transformation in Canada’s policies regarding its overseas business operations. These reforms encompass the establishment of regulatory mechanisms to legally hold companies accountable for human rights and environmental abuses. Additionally, Canada also rejected recommendations from Colombia and Ecuador, which refer to “[s]trengthening measures to eliminate obstacles that prevent people and communities affected by the activities of Canadian companies abroad from accessing effective judicial remedies and reparations in the country,” and to “[e]nsure access to justice for people affected by business activities abroad.” This indicates Canada’s unwillingness to ensure the respect and protection of the rights of defenders and victims of corporate abuses, as contemplated by international human rights instruments. 

Canada’s rejection of other recommendations aimed at holding Canadian companies accountable for their actions abroad is also concerning. These recommendations included calls for the enactment of mandatory legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence, legal recourse in Canadian courts for affected individuals abroad, and the exclusion of international arbitration mechanisms from Free Trade Agreements. Canada’s response, citing its ratification of international treaties and adherence to guidelines promoting responsible business conduct, such as the United Nations Guiding Principles, falls short of expectations.

Additionally, Canada’s persistent refusal to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and the ILO Convention 169, under the pretext that certain aspects are already covered by the Canadian legal framework, is troubling. “Unmasking Canada: Rights Violations Across Latin America” clearly shows that Canadian companies are involved in projects that systematically violate Indigenous rights and fail to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from impacted Indigenous peoples.

Why is it important to continue advocating for the implementation of these recommendations, despite the rejection of some of them by Canada?

Implementing these recommendations would positively impact the Volta Grande Project operated by Belo Sun Mining, a Canadian company. Despite opposition from Indigenous and riverine communities, Belo Sun insists on digging its mine less than a kilometer from the Xingu River, projecting severe impacts on cultural integrity and crucial biodiversity. This project violates Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination and the right to say no, due to failure to conduct an adequate process of free, prior, and informed consultation and consent.

The Warintza Project in Ecuador has generated a similar situation. This proposed mining project has caused severe rifts in the social structure of the ancestral indigenous Shuar Arutam people. Solaris Resources, another Canadian company, has proceeded with the advanced exploration phase of the project, systematically violating the right to free, prior, and informed consultation. The International Labour Organization’s Governing Body has recognized this violation, condemning divisive tactics and non-compliance with international human rights standards, especially those concerning Indigenous peoples.

For decades, Canadian companies have operated irresponsibly and violated rights abroad. Moreover, the Canadian government – instead of regulating these activities, providing grievance mechanisms, justice, and accountability – has promoted corporate activities through economic diplomacy. The report “Unmasking Canada: Rights Violations Across Latin America” unequivocally demonstrates that Canada is not fulfilling its international obligations concerning the extraterritorial operations of its companies. 

In pursuit of mineral and oil resources, Canadian companies leave fragmented and violated territories behind. Sacrifice zones are real-world consequences of this predatory extraction. When will Canada assume responsibility for these abuses and align its rhetoric with concrete actions to regulate and monitor companies within its jurisdiction and in compliance with international commitments?

Despite the rejection of some recommendations, we remain united and steadfast in our advocacy efforts. We will continue to demand accountability and justice to end the impunity of Canadian companies operating in the Amazon. In the coming months, we will actively participate in COP16 biodiversity discussions and PDAC 2025 to hold Canadian companies accountable. We encourage you to stay informed and engaged, as together, we can make a difference and ensure that the rights and well-being of all people and the planet are respected and protected.


bottom of page