Charlie Coffey, O.C.
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs & Business Development
RBC Financial Group
Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) Summit
"Human Rights: Everyone's Business"
Windsor Arms Hotel
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Adine, thank you for the marvelous introduction and for inviting me to participate in this important Summit devoted to business and human rights. I highly respect your skill and determination in pushing the envelope on corporate responsibility and in nurturing the corporate sector's relationship with CBSR, including RBC. Although your success in financial services and commitment to community leadership also stand out in my mind, I especially admire the way you think. For example, when asked by the newspaper Business in Vancouver: "What remains the biggest challenge to women in business", Adine's response was "changing the corporate climate to value intuition on an equal footing with rational decision-making."
And Adine's right on the mark in many cases and on many landscapes, it's very much about changing the climate or the culture. This is certainly true in terms of corporate responsibility - it's reflected in the growing recognition by investors, analysts, non-governmental organizations and various industry sectors at large (most notably the financial services sector), that there's more to a company's health than quarterly results. As you all well know, any company or organization can be vulnerable to a whole host of diverse influences that just aren't found on a traditional balance sheet. And human rights, is a good example of what I mean.
So for the next few minutes, I want to share some thoughts about the business of corporate responsibility and human rights, with a special focus on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights - a magnificent meeting place for human rights leadership, to be built in the geographic centre of Canada - in the great city of Winnipeg. And then, we'll open the floor to questions, as I really want to hear from you.
At RBC, we define corporate responsibility as operating with integrity at all times, sustaining our company's long-term viability while contributing to the present and future well-being of all of our stakeholders, not just our shareholders. We believe this balance is not only possible, it is imperative for our ongoing success. It's not a matter of whether a company can be both profitable and responsible, because in the long term, you can't have one without the other. The bottom line is that corporate responsibility is about how we operate our business, support economic prosperity and contribute to communities - it's about relationships with all stakeholders.
Increasingly, researchers, analysts and shareholders are asking companies to report on their environmental, social and ethical performance as well as on their financials. This "sustainability" or "non-financial" reporting is an emerging discipline. RBC's Sustainability Report and Index to Sustainability Information (which is available on our web site) provides the most detailed reporting on responsibility performance. And human rights is a significant component of this Report, in terms of our code of ethics and business principles, financial products and services, environmental concerns, supplier relations and engagement, not to mention human resource policies.
All companies and organizations have a fundamental responsibility to respect human rights in their own operations. Perhaps the business community also has a broader responsibility -- to use its influence to promote respect for human rights. How many of you are aware that April 17, 2005 marked the Twentieth Anniversary Year of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? How many of you are aware that Section 15 revolves around equality rights - that it reads as follows: "Every individual is equal before the and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability."
In order to protect human rights, we must know and understand our rights, as well as be determined to preserve them. It's become increasingly apparent that not enough Canadians are aware, as citizens, employees and employers. I for one, continue to learn each and every day.
Speaking of learning .in January of this year, POLLARA Public Opinion polled 2,360 Canadians for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Here are some findings: "A substantial majority of Canadians (81%) believe that human rights violations have taken place in Canada in the past, while almost one-in-five Canadians (19%) has personally been the victim of a human rights violation based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation."
"When asked to think of human rights issues or events that have happened in Canada, Canadians recount violations against Canada's aboriginal peoples (17%), against Japanese-Canadians during World War II (7%), against new immigrants to Canada (6%), as well as against visible minorities (5%) and women (5%), against gays and lesbians (4%), wrongful convictions (3%), general racism and discrimination (3%), against organized labour (2%) and twenty other instances with 1% or fewer mentions. Only a third of Canadians (34%) could not immediately name a human rights violation when asked." According to Michael Marzolini, Chairman & CEO of POLLARA, "Canadians believe it is important to build the Museum for Human Rights - they believe that remembering our past is good insurance against such events ever being repeated."
Another Canadian also thought it was important to build the Museum - none other than the late Israel Asper, who established the Asper Foundation in 1983, the foundation that also sponsors the Holocaust and Human Rights Studies Program. It's this program that largely inspired Izzy's dream - his vision - for the creation of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights - "the only human rights museum of this scale in the world." It will be a people centre to tell Canadian human rights stories, celebrate our heroes and capture Canada's human rights essence. It will also be an action centre to equip Canadians and others to be steadfast advocates for human rights and a meeting place for human rights leadership.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is an opportunity for Canada to brand human rights leadership on both the national and international stage. The Museum is an opportunity to put children, young people and education at the forefront of the national agenda. And the Museum is an opportunity to put a Canadian stamp on building effective public and private partnerships.
Before I wrap up my remarks, I want to share some marvelous information and stories about human rights with you. First of all, I was delighted to discover that the work of scores of Order of Canada recipients (over the years) is connected to human rights. Out of the 48 individuals invested into the Order on September 1st, three of them are involved with human rights: Diane Richler, C.M., of Toronto, Renée Dupuis, C.M., of Quebec City and Anne Hart, C.M., of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Very impressive!
Secondly, last month "a new era in human rights scholarship" got underway at McGill University, following a tremendous gift by law school alumnus, David O'Brien (who also happens to be chair of RBC Financial Group). "His $3-million donation has created five major fellowships that will be awarded every year to top graduate students from around the world. The O'Brien Fellows will be a pivotal source of ideas and energy for the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, a major new research group. The centre will see professors and students from the faculties of law, arts and education working together to study the legal and cultural aspects of human rights. As the news release read: "The fellowships gift comes at a time when human rights issues are taking on paramount importance to a world community repeatedly confronted with genocide and conflict." It's evident that David O'Brien's decision to contribute on such a large scale has a good deal to do with his strong interest in human rights and support of education. Again, very impressive!
Thirdly, congratulations to Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal (who are represented at this Summit and luncheon) for their significant contributions to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In fact, the banking community has truly come together on this project, including RBC Financial Group through our Foundation. The "big 5" have made contributions ranging from $750,000 to $1.5 million which is also very impressive! On this one and rare occasion, I feel comfortable in speaking for my banker colleagues when I say that our investments are about a commitment to education, youth, diversity and corporate responsibility. On this note, I'm pleased that Frances Bedford-Jones (RBC Foundation) and Gord Kerr (RBC Human Resources) have joined us today to learn more about the business of human rights and to help spread the word about the Museum. By the way, if I missed a company or organization in this group, please speak up as it would be remiss not to mention all contributors to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The bottom line is that we (YOU) can make a difference
In closing, I ask you to picture 2010 - you've traveled to Winnipeg for the grand opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As you enter the doors, you see or meet Gail Asper, the powerhouse spearheading this project (and daughter of Izzy Asper). Making your way through the crowd, you're drawn to an exhibit - a story that you heard at the CBSR Summit five years ago. It's a story celebrating the national historic significance of Mary and Henry Bibb - two people who "left an indelible mark on south-western Ontario and on Canada as a whole." It's a human rights story about remarkable individuals in Canada's history, "especially for African Canadians and for all other immigrants who, fleeing persecution and slavery, came to this country on the promises of liberty and opportunity. Mary and Henry Bibb produced The Voice of the Fugitive, the first major newspaper to be published by and for African Canadians. Despite discrimination in the public school system, the Bibbs established their own schools improving the education of African Canadian children and adults. One of their most important contributions was the role in organizing the North American Coloured Convention, held in Toronto in 1851. During this convention, people of colour vigorously debated emigration without the involvement of well-meaning Whites and other outside forces, thereby taking command of their own destiny." Henry and Mary Bibb have a place at the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada - now they can have a place, as part of Canada's legacy, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As you picture 2010, just know this is one of countless hero stories!
You won't be surprised to hear me say how proud I am, as a Canadian, to be chairing the advisory council for the Museum. I urge all of you to reach for the stars when it comes to the business of human rights - and if you need a little encouragement along the way - to help your imagination picture 2010, I also invite you to read or revisit the National Post's June 22nd insert on Canada's Museum for Human Rights. We have copies of this "inspiring journey of hope" for everyone. Talk up the Museum across Canada - create anticipation about the Museum in your workplaces and communities. And stay tuned for exciting announcements in the weeks ahead. It's time to create the Canadian brand for human rights leadership!
Thank you Adine and CBSR
and thanks to one and all.
Now let's hear from you!