Above Ground logo
Our Focus

Our work seeks to address the global human rights and environmental impacts of companies with ties to Canada. This includes companies based in Canada and foreign companies that receive support from the Canadian government.1The Canadian government financially supports both Canadian and foreign companies through its export bank, Export Development Canada. Many Canadian companies operating abroad also receive political and trade support from Canada’s embassies and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. We draw attention to cases where their activities are putting people’s rights at risk, either through their own operations or through their dealings with other actors implicated in abuse.2This would include, as hypothetical examples, brands sourcing their goods from manufacturers that violate workers’ rights or mining companies contracting security firms that use excessive force.

Many of these cases arise in the extractive sector — mining and oil and gas — due to the outsize presence of Canadian firms in these industries and the elevated risks they pose3John Ruggie, the author of the UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights, notes that the extractive sector “is unique because no other [sector] has so enormous and intrusive a social and environmental footprint.”. Mining and petroleum projects can have devastating effects on people locally, and fossil fuel development further undermines human rights by fuelling the climate emergency, which threatens millions of peoples’ lives and rights globally.

In advocating for solutions, we’re especially interested in measures to ensure that the people and communities harmed by reckless business practices can access justice. People seeking accountability for a Canadian company’s harmful impacts often face daunting barriers, some unique to those pursuing justice across borders. They should have access to strong judicial and non-judicial avenues to remedy in Canada, allowing them to turn to the courts or to other less costly mechanisms to defend their rights.

Building on these themes, we’re focusing our work in 2024 on three priority areas:

“When a Government, directly or through its export credit agency, fails to exercise due diligence to protect human rights from the potentially harmful behaviour of non-State actors, it is in breach of its obligations under international human rights law.”
Cephas Lumina
former UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights

Bringing mandatory due diligence to Canada

Governments around the world are creating laws that require multinationals to respect human rights and the environment across borders. We’re working with civil society partners to establish this kind of legislation in Canada.

Amidst growing calls for action to end forced labour in Canada’s supply chains, we’re tracking key developments and urging better enforcement of the existing rules — in particular, Canada’s ban on importing goods made with forced labour.

For years we’ve been calling for Canada to stop bankrolling the fossil fuel industry through its public export bank, Export Development Canada. With new support for most overseas projects now halted, we’re working to keep the spotlight on the much larger problem of public finance for fossil fuels in Canada.