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Business Law and Reconciliation in Canada: Economic Reconciliation in Corporate Social Responsibility


Written by Julia Beal

Colonization and the Residential School System in Canada continue to deeply impact Indigenous peoples today. To make amends for the harm that has been inflicted on Indigenous Peoples, it is important to acknowledge that the work of reconciliation is multifaceted and is the duty of all Canadians. Additionally, with the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation having just occurred on September 30th, it is an appropriate time to reflect on how all Canadians – including businesses – can contribute to building a relationship with Indigenous [1]peoples based on respect, recognition, and partnership.  Although not intended to comprehensively discuss the ways in which the corporate sector can advance the aims of reconciliation, the following discussion highlights the importance of incorporating reconciliation into corporate social responsibility (CSR) frameworks.

CSR can be defined as “a type of business self-regulation with the aim of social accountability and making a positive impact on society.”[2] Essentially, CSR is about ensuring that a company’s practices and operations are beneficial to society. CSR practices can typically be categorized into four areas of responsibility: environmental, philanthropic, ethical, and economic. In the Canadian context, these categories, without more, do an insufficient job of making CSR meaningful. In Canada, where the dark history of colonialism has had a lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples across many generations, reconciliation must be at the forefront of individual and corporate minds. In other words, reconciliation must be present in each category of CSR.

As evidence of the corporate sector’s responsibility in reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) made 94 Calls to Action in 2015, calling upon many sections and areas of society – including the corporate sector – to help foster reconciliation. As outlined in the TRC Call to Action 92, the corporate sector in Canada plays a role in business reconciliation. Specifically, the TRC Call to Action 92(ii) calls upon the corporate sector to “[e]nsure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.”[3] The TRC further noted that “industry and business play an extremely significant role in how the economic, social and cultural aspects of reconciliation are addressed, including the extent to which opportunities and benefits are truly shared with Indigenous peoples.”[4] The actions requested of businesses to foster reconciliation under Call to Action 92(ii) can be referred to as “economic reconciliation.” Reconciliation Canada defines economic reconciliation as a form of reconciliation in action which “aims to create meaningful partnerships and mutually beneficial opportunities based on a holistic, values-driven approach to attaining community economic prosperity.”[5] Economic reconciliation is needed because “full participation in the Canadian economy was prevented due to the colonial history in Canada and legal restrictions provided by the Indian Act.” [6]  With hindered economic participation and the impacts of intergenerational trauma, Indigenous Peoples have been socioeconomically marginalized – Indigenous Peoples have experienced higher rates of unemployment and inadequate housing, and lower rates of educational attainment,[7] among other challenges. Economic reconciliation works to create and maintain the well-being of communities, children, and families, which then fosters the creation of wealth and wealth management, until finally, there is just that – wealth and wellbeing.[8] Essentially, the key goal of economic reconciliation is to create shared and mutual prosperity and to close the socioeconomic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. It is clear that the corporate sector has the ability to play a part in realizing that goal.

To ensure that businesses honour the TRC’s Call to Action 92(ii), economic reconciliation must be woven into the economic responsibility category of CSR frameworks. As noted earlier, CSR is a self-regulatory practice – CSR is essentially “soft law,” meaning that CSR is not legally required or enforced. Instead, CSR is voluntary. However, although the largely voluntary nature of CSR perhaps limits the potential for meaningful levels of action, it is important to remember that failure to acknowledge reconciliation in CSR plans will be noticed. For example, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs released a statement in 2020 following the release of Manitoba Hydro’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report, expressing their disappointment that “[t]he Report fails to include any meaningful First Nations representation and fails to acknowledge any corporate responsibility or plan for Reconciliation and relation-building with First Nations in Manitoba.”[9] Since we are in a time when the need for meaningful reconciliation cannot be ignored any longer, a company’s CSR plan, without a corresponding plan for reconciliation, may be opposed by both Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. Businesses can advance economic reconciliation by creating CSR plans that prioritize reconciliation through funding Indigenous scholarships, employing Indigenous staff, creating on-the-job training and mentorship programs, using Indigenous-sourced materials, partnering with Indigenous communities, investing in Indigenous communities and businesses, and perhaps hiring reconciliation officers to help guide the development of reconciliation strategies and policies in CSR plans.

With the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation now behind us, there are no more excuses – our responsibility as Canadians to engage in active reconciliation cannot be neglected. Corporations have the opportunity to engage in meaningful reconciliation through CSR plans and frameworks, with reconciliation woven into each category of CSR. Just as CSR is voluntary, reconciliation is a choice every Canadian has to actively decide to make.

[1] the official/legal/Constitutional  name is Aboriginal and so the TRC references to Indigenous People is Aboriginal

[2] Nadia Reckmann, “What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?” (29 June 2022), online: Business News Daily <www.businessnewsdaily.com/4679-corporate-social-responsibility.html> [https://perma.cc/C5LT-CVRN].

[3] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, (Ottawa: TRC, 2015) at 10. 

[4] Truth and Reconciliation of Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, (Ottawa: TRC, 2015) at 302.  

[5] “Economic Reconciliation,” online: Reconciliation Canada <reconciliationcanada.ca/programs-initiatives/economic-reconciliation/> [perma.cc/7ADD-P4CV].

[6] “Business Reconciliation in Canada: Guidebook” at 5, online (pdf): Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business <www.ccab.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Business-reconciliation-in-canada_WEB-final_AA.pdf> [perma.cc/J74B-VL4Z].

[7] Department of Justice, “Understanding the Overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the Criminal Justice System” (last modified 28 April 2022), online: Government of Canada <www.justice.gc.ca/socjs-esjp/en/ind-aut/uo-cs> [perma.cc/3XKX-R9RT].

[8] “What is Economic Reconciliation?” (2 August 2019), online: Simon Fraser University <www.sfu.ca/ced/economic-reconciliation/transformative-storytelling/what-is-economic-reconciliation-.html> [perma.cc/LPH4-F5HB].

[9] “AMC deeply disappointed with Manitoba Hydro’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report” (20 November 2020), online: Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs <manitobachiefs.com/amc-deeply-disappointed-with-manitoba-hydros-corporate-social-responsibility-report/> [perma.cc/PYN3-CS9J].

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