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The UN Global Compact Network Canada hosted its final panel discussion in the environmental webinar series titled Raising Corporate Ambition for Environmental Sustainability: Canada’s Road to COP27 on November 24, with a focus on developing sustainable solutions and navigating biodiversity loss from a business perspective. The panel discussion, moderated by Daria Naglic, Interim Executive Director and Senior Manager, Programmes & Business Relations at the UN Global Compact Network Canada, featured André-Martin Bouchard, Global Director of Earth & Environment at WSP Global; and Paul-Emile McNab, VP of Business Development & Membership Experience at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

In her opening remarks, Daria Naglic noted that the last 15 years had seen the greatest decline in biodiversity ever recorded due to society’s overdependence on natural resources for goods and services. André-Martin Bouchard indicated that there are three critical steps that Canadian businesses can take to counteract this catastrophic loss of biodiversity. To begin, they must recognize that biodiversity in Canada is under just as much threat as it is in other areas of the world. Over half of Canada’s GDP is directly related to biodiversity, which means that any violation against it can have a huge socio-economic impact. The second step is to incorporate biodiversity themes into ESG frameworks and implement governance structures that promote diversity within enterprises. Finally, action plans with specific targets and reporting procedures should be established so that businesses can measure their impact on biodiversity and generate visibility through accountability mechanisms.

According to Paul-Emile McNab, it is essential for Canadian companies to approach building strategies in a holistic manner, with Indigenous communities serving as the cornerstone. Businesses must prioritize—not simply take into consideration—the framework, knowledge, and expertise of Knowledge Keepers, who possess a variety of unique and profound solutions for building stronger and more sustainable economies and communities. Paul-Emile provided the example of the National Indigenous Economic Strategy for Canada, which calls for meaningful engagement of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Elders, experts, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. André-Martin also echoed the importance of integrating Traditional Knowledge at WSP, revealing that a key part of their projects is conducting an engagement process and having professionals who specialize in engagement to understand the communities and territories in which their projects are operating in. This enables WSP to design alternative and optimal methods by identifying community members’ fishing and hunting routes, as well as the areas in which they live and work. Furthermore, WSP collaborates with First Nations specialists to assist project delivery during the building phase, as well as for any scientific fishing excursions and field data surveys, and urges clients to always engage with First Nations communities that may be impacted by their projects.

To close the nature-finance divide, both Paul-Emile and André-Martin stressed the importance of elevating the voices of champions who demonstrate effective leadership and unique solutions that prioritize adaptation. From an Indigenous stewardship standpoint, Paul-Emile stated that outstanding leaders working on inclusive and strategic solutions are not receiving the support they deserve and need additional platforms to bring their solutions to the forefront. Similarly, André-Martin shared that we must give voice to heroes who challenge the current status quo and propose a fresh solution, looking at issues from a new angle. We need champions who design solutions with the understanding that every economic activity has an impact on biodiversity and, as a result, our quality of life.

WSP, according to André-Martin, has a team of biologists, climatologists, anthropologists, Traditional Knowledge Keepers, and community engagement professionals who conduct rigorous evaluations to establish a proper baseline of the areas that may be impacted by a new project’s footprint. They then provide alternatives and optimization techniques to minimize harm against biodiversity and help compensate for interaction with key habitats. New technology and knowledge have made it increasingly viable to implement creative methods to biodiversity management strategies. For example, the mining industry has made significant progress in both the exploratory and design stages, particularly under the leadership of the Canadian Mining Association, with excellent guidelines and standards for mining companies operating at various stages of the life cycle. An interesting project that WSP also undertook was in re-naturalization and clean-up of a smelting and mining operations in a region of Québec, where WSP was able to fully restore nature and wildlife through this project, transforming the twointo a destination for outdoor activities and residential housing.

André-Martin stated that one of the most encouraging trends in biodiversity governance is that there has been a rise in ESG awareness in recent years, with companies aiming to go above and beyond compliance and what is required by regulations in order to improve community relationships and provide better products. Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures is one emerging framework that is a vital piece on biodiversity measures that we should expect more firms to embrace in the next few years. There is also an increase in science-based targets for nature, as well as other critical frameworks that are being accepted by C-suite level and company operations.

Since we’ve moved past the why and into the how, Paul-Emile recommended that we should encourage collaboration with organizations doing significant work to improve local biodiversity, including not only the CCAB but many smaller community organizations around the country. Before we can design effective biodiversity governance frameworks, we must first establish genuine relationships, which is often overlooked yet sets the tone for long-term success. André-Martin also emphasized the importance of communal effort, stating that biodiversity loss cannot be addressed exclusively by governments or single enterprises, but by everyone’s joint efforts. Not only that, but the long-term status quo can also be directly challenged by integrating smaller decisions into strategic planning processes. Steps include evaluating the supply chain from which goods and services are sourced, doing business with ethical suppliers who are certified and care for biodiversity in their practices, and taking operational steps such as converting asphalt surface areas into grasslands for land-intensive projects or installing beehives on office building rooftops.

Paul-Emile concluded the session by emphasizing that we should strive to understand the unique challenges and possibilities that our biodiversity presents and use our knowledge to create significant change through business collaborations. André-Martin stated that since biodiversity is necessary for life to exist on Earth, we must constantly be mindful of its fragility and refrain from taking it for granted.

Written by: Keira Kang (she/her)

Warning: This article discusses gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and femicide.  

The United Nations has designated femicide as the most extreme form of violence against women which severely undermines the safety, security, and rights of women and girls. Femicide, in all of its forms claims the lives of 137 women and girls daily and 50,000 annually, globally. Canada is certainly no exception when it comes to staggering rates of femicide, where it is reported that a woman or girl is killed every other day and that every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. These confounding rates, coupled with the infamous École Polytechnique Tragedy (Montreal Massacre) that claimed the lives of 14 women, point to the imminent threat and devastating consequences of femicide in Canada. To provide space for Canadians to reflect on the senseless anti-feminist tragedy that sent shockwaves throughout the nation, the Government of Canada has designated December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Moreover, this day and the supporting 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence presents an opportune time for Canadians to assess progress made in combatting the prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV); a much-needed assessment, especially since it has been established that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence and intimate-partner violence, further deepening gender inequality.

The Covid-19 pandemic had unprecedented impacts on global health and economic, social, and political systems which propelled governments to enact measures to mitigate the further spread of the virus. Perhaps the most universal measures were the lockdowns and social distancing that restricted the mobility of everyone, and in turn, worked to slow down the spread of the virus. Despite the efficacy of these measures, these restrictions proved to be consequential for some women and girls whose mobility was restricted which forcibly confined and isolated them in the home with their abuser(s).

As a result, these restrictions allowed abusers to subject women and girls to more severe forms of GBV at heightened levels. Moreover, tensions induced by the pandemic, such as increased financial constraints, point to the intricate link between emergencies or crises and higher incidences of GBV. As a result, many women and girls grappled with a double and silent pandemic, the Shadow Pandemic of Violence Against Women, that exposed them to greater risks of both Covid-19 and GBV. Furthermore, the Shadow Pandemic illuminated the presence of gendered barriers that allowed for the surge of GBV to be overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, further solidifying the pervasiveness of gender inequality.

The Shadow Pandemic propelled the United Nations to call for urgent action to end the “pandemic of femicide and violence against women” that has been eclipsed by Covid-19. Canada responded promptly to this call by launching the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, which proposes collaborative and coordinated actions from all levels of government, external stakeholders, and Indigenous partners to address and combat the root causes of GBV in Canada. The National Action Plan is a significant step towards combatting the pervasiveness of GBV that takes a much-needed intersectional approach in informing coordinated actions. It is undeniable that GBV is a multifaceted issue that impacts victims in specific and unique ways, especially for women and girls whose identity factors such as race, gender, disability, and socio-economic status intersect in a way that exposes them to heightened vulnerabilities, risk, and rates of GBV.

For instance, Indigenous women have been subjected to systemic genocide as evidenced by the incidents of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Indigenous women and girls in Canada face a disproportionate homicide rate that is six times higher than that of non-Indigenous women, and despite Indigenous women making up 4.3% of the Canadian population, they make up 16% of all female homicide victims and 11% of missing women who are persistently targeted as victims of violence due to their gender and Indigenous identity.  These staggering rates propel the urgency to eliminate all forms of GBV while maintaining a focus on the intersectionality of victims. GBV is a multilayered issue that impacts all realms of society, notably public health systems, the economy, national security, and the overall stability of nations, and therefore, collective efforts are required to drive change. These responsibilities extend to businesses and the workplace, where incidences of GBV can hinder employees’ ability to secure full economic participation, work in a barrier-free and inclusive workplace, feel safe at work, and achieve gender equality. Here are some ways employers can tackle the persistence of GBV in the workplace or the implications of GBV on its workforce:

  1. Create inclusive and gender-responsive work initiatives to protect employees

Combating GBV in the workplace requires employers to take an inclusive, integrated, and gender-responsive approach. The International Labour Organization argues that it is important for employers to acknowledge that GBV and harassment disproportionately impact women and girls, and therefore, it is imperative to address the underlying risk factors that include, but are not limited to, gender stereotypes, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, and unequal gender-based power relations. Therefore, employers can create policies that explicitly address GBV, require employees to undergo anti-harassment (including sexual harassment) training, and educate employees to recognize and change systemic gendered barriers that contribute to unequal power dynamics that exacerbate the risk of GBV.

  1. Establish reporting process to monitor the risks of GBV

GBV is a persistent threat that directly endangers victims and those around them, but it also follows them to the workplace which means that employers, businesses, and organizations have a responsibility to recognize and react. One key way to do this is incorporating proper mechanisms for victims to report GBV in a safe space via a process that is free from repercussions and protects the reporter’s confidentiality. At the same time, organizations can consider creating feasible and appropriate reporting mechanisms for employees who suspect that colleagues are victims of GBV.

  1. Provide comprehensive resources for GBV victims in the workplace

GBV takes an immense toll on its victims, and therefore, proactively providing resources is crucial. Providing mental health support and comprehensive resources for GBV victims and survivors can help remove barriers to accessing crucial health and psychological support. By engraining resources, such as support phonelines and easily accessible information, in the workplace, employers can demonstrate their commitment to achieving gender equality and reduce the stigma faced by survivors of GBV.

The UN Global Compact Network Canada is committed to advancing Sustainable Development Goal 5.2 which calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in both the public and private spheres, including all types of exploitation and trafficking.

Learn more about our current multi-year project funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada that works to advance gender equality in the Canadian labour market by tackling gender-based barriers such as GBV within post-pandemic initiatives here.

Written by: Sarin Aman, Project Associate, UN Global Compact Network Canada