CSR & Indigenous peoples in Canada podcast

In this episode, host Daniel Ridge talks to Dr. Brad Long about whether it is possible to reconcile the principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the needs and wishes of Indigenous peoples in Canada. While these principles provide a voluntary guideline for companies to engage their stakeholders, they can at times skirt real regulation, or even pay lip service to the needs of this important community.

Dr. Brad Long, Associate Professor of Management at Saint Francis Xavier University's Gerald Schwartz School of Business, offers an inciteful perspective on the issue. His research relates to the discourse of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and similarly intentioned initiatives. In evaluating CSR’s appropriateness as a framework, Brad’s research considers how businesses can engage authentically and effectively with Indigenous people in Canada, in efforts relating to the project of reconciliation.

Read Professor Long’s article, "CSR and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada".

Speaker profile(s)

Dr. Brad Long is Associate Professor of Management at StFX's Gerald Schwartz School of Business, specialising in business ethics and leadership, and is the inaugural John T. Sears Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility. Brad served for five years as Department Chair from 2015-2020.

In 2009, Brad received StFX’s Outstanding Teaching Award. His research has been published in the Journal of Business Ethics, Critical Perspectives on International Business, Journal of Leadership Studies, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, Journal of Strategic Contracting and Negotiation, and Education + Training, and he has articles and teaching cases published in several books / case repositories.

Brad has made over two-dozen presentations at academic conferences, is a frequent peer-reviewer for internationally recognised journals and has been an invited workshop facilitator and panelist on the topics of business ethics, authentic leadership and human resource management.

Brad is also active in many roles on the StFX campus in his service on departmental and university committees, as well as the academic union – StFXAUT – for which he has been President, Chief Negotiator and held other executive positions. He currently coordinates the Schwartz School’s efforts to uphold our commitment to the UN PRME initiative.

Brad advises and supervises students in honours theses, case competitions and summer research internships. In addition, he managed a refugee sponsorship programme at StFX for ten years. Brad joined StFX in 2002 after eight years in the private sector in progressively senior management positions in industries ranging from aerospace to information technology to consulting. He holds a Ph.D. degree from Saint Mary’s University; he also has an MBA, BA and the CPA (CMA) professional designation.

In this episode:

  • What is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and what is the Idle No More social movement?
  • What is the discourse around corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
  • How can businesses and industries create space for Indigenous knowledge and values?
  • How can CSR be reimagined to contribute to the aims of reconciliation projects in Canada?

See all current podcasts

Browse podcasts

CSR & Indigenous peoples in Canada – transcript

Daniel Ridge (DR): In this episode, we speak with Dr. Brad long about corporate social responsibility, commonly known as CSR, and indigenous peoples in Canada. Brad is an Associate Professor of Management at St. Francis Xavier's Gerald Schwartz School of Business. As a researcher. He has published multiple pieces that relate to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Initiative, as well as research on spirituality in the workplace. Though not an Indigenous author, Brad's research explores CSR and reconciliation from an informed expert perspective.

This discussion considers both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was active in Canada from 2008 to 2015, and Idle No More, the Indigenous led social movement that exists as a continent-wide network of urban and rural Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies for advocating for the protection of Indigenous peoples rights and environments.

Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I think your article is extremely important and useful. And I think for our listeners, it'd be helpful if we lay out some of the terms and frameworks that your article uses in its discussion. So first of all, we're talking about whether it's possible to reconcile the principles of corporate social responsibility with the needs of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The biggest problem that seems is that the application of the principles of CSR are entirely voluntary, and at times seem to be a way to get around real concrete regulation. Now, you write in your article that Canada's living in a post TRC world, referring specifically to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. So obviously, this report is a sort of landmark in recognising the Canadian government's historical practices in its dealings with the Indigenous peoples. So, before we dive deeper into CSR, could you begin by telling us about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and why it's so significant?

Brad Long (BL): Yeah, it's in the Canadian context, it's quite significant, you could argue that we were, we were late to get to it. Other countries, thinking New Zealand, for example, had formal inquiries like this into how it sort of to investigate the historical practices of the way they marginalised minority peoples of their lands. We didn't get to our own version of a truth and reconciliation process until the late 2000s, 2008, I believe is when our started, and it arose from class action litigation. So, this was part of what the Canadian government agreed to, in settling some class action, some class action litigation brought against it. And it resulted in us a six-year period of the commission traveling the country to listen to the stories of residential school survivors. So residential schools were, I don't know if they were unique to Canada, but they were certainly a core part of the assimilation policy of the Canadian government where they took Indigenous children away from their families and communities, and educated them in state run schools. Some of the schools were run by the Catholic Church. Some of these schools were day schools, but most of them were residential schools. I just, earlier this week, the Pope, I don't know if it was news outside of Canada, but the pope entertained an audience of Canadian Indigenous peoples and formally and finally, apologise publicly and express shame for what happened to these children. So Truth and Reconciliation kind of go hand in hand, the truth part is the need to hear first hand what happened to the people who attended these schools, the various abuses and trauma they experienced, the multi-generational impacts of having lost language and culture and identity and being told that they were inferior, and having that all replaced by the language and religion and cultural practice of the colonisers. So that's, so what emerged when the commission ended in 2015, was a really rich historical record of the Canadian residential school system. And then the reconciliation part is, is the work that needs to happen to restore meaningful relationships to restore Indigenous knowledge and ways of being to restore culture, to restore the expectation of mutually respectful relationships between Indigenous people and that not only just the crown but sort of all of all of Canadians so… It wrapped up in 2015 with a multivolume report, but an important element of that was a set of recommendations called the calls to action, which were a set of 94 recommendations that cover all kinds of things from, from education, to healthcare, to governance, into acts that businesses can do to aid in that process of reconciliation. So I guess, you know, the motive for this paper was, is kind of contextualised within the fact that Canada has is coming out of this truth and reconciliation process with sort of its eyes wide opened, and, and, and an obligation to, to make amends and to reconcile with that with that history and to, to forge a different kind of relationship.

DR: So then the business community fits into that. So if we if we then turn to corporate social responsibility, which is the place of business, could you talk about some of the discourse around CSR and why it's problematic in terms of how it relates to Indigenous peoples?

BL: Yeah, so discourse is just a, you know, a way of, you know, the discourse of CSR, at least as a way of shaping how we understand the purpose of business in society. And what emerges from that particular discourse is the idea that corporations have a multitude of responsibilities to a multitude of stakeholders, it moves us away from what's what some people might call brute capitalism, where the purpose of business is just to maximise the private wealth of owners. But instead, it kind of moves us into thinking about balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders, or what what others have had labeled stakeholder capitalism. And you can see in recent pronouncements out of the World Economic Forum with the Davis Manifesto, the Business Roundtables statement on the purpose of business, that the idea of stakeholder capitalism is, is now sort of the dominant discourse, and that CSR is really taking roots, you know, it's becoming institutionalised. There's a CSR infrastructure that's been built from the UN Global Compact to reporting frameworks like the GRI to ESG ratings and, and firms of all forms are trying to demonstrate their social impact through the communications, the reporting they do to show how well they're serving their stakeholders. So then, I guess your question is sort of where Indigenous peoples fit into that? And part of the answer is comes from the critique that exists around CSR, you know, as you said, off the top and it is voluntary. It doesn't really mandate anything more than what existing employment standards and environmental regulations and Human Rights Acts, etc, already require. Robert Wright, a prominent American author Economist has recently labeled CSR a sham, because he says the evidence suggests that corporations are still, you know, maximising profits and CSO compensation at the expense of workers and communities and society. So, the problem is that maybe the CSR discourse isn't changing the conversation enough. And within that critique is the idea that the company can determine which stakeholders matter which ones it wants to engage with, and which ones it doesn't. And so, it doesn't...

DR: A lot of PR, couldn't it?

BL: It could be Yeah. It doesn't require a corporation to meaningfully engage with the Canadian Indigenous people as a valid stakeholder it, it allows them to choose to do so if they if they wished. And even then, they can choose to listen, but they don't necessarily have to have to act on that. So yeah, I guess part of the motivation of this paper was then to argue that, you know, CSR could still be useful if if the ways in which corporations a candidate engaged with CSR practices actually were more meaningful in how they engaged with Indigenous peoples?

DR: Well, you talk about the extractive industry, which is great because it gives us a concrete example of what that looks like. So could you talk about the extractive industry, how it fits into CSR and how it fits in with reconciliation, indigenous people?

BL: It's probably the easiest of the industries to think about how, how that industry can embrace the mandate of reconciliation because extractive ism is really all the processes of resource extraction. So we're talking about mining or drilling or logging or or whatever any of these industries that are taking resources from the earth for commercial purposes, the the commodification of plants and minerals and all that. And by definition, it's damaging to land and so if you know when these resources are seen as commodities, then it can lead to taking from the land beyond subsistence levels beyond what the earth could naturally replenish, you know. Indigenous peoples have a much closer relationship with land. And so extractivism sort of inherently comes up against the values and, and culture and traditions of Indigenous peoples who are more apt to understand the connection between their physical and their cultural and spiritual well-being and the health of the land.

DR: I mean, I wonder if this is even possible to reconcile this? You know, I mean, is it possible to go and extract these things without really doing damage?

BL: Well, I think that there there, there are ways in which the extractive industry can bring in Indigenous communities into their decision making processes and engage in in in types of meaningful relationship building that that might advance the aims of reconciliation, for sure, for sure. Yeah, you know, part of what we're talking about a reconciliation is just connecting to Indigenous ways of knowing about how to be stewards of the land, and maybe restoring access to land that's been removed or recognising the importance of land to the overall well-being of people. And so it doesn't mean that we can't take from the land, it's just that there has to be a means of, of there has to be a sustainability framework that guides all of that, the long term perspective that guides all of that and not sort of the more short term profiteering motive. It's the underlying principles, I think, is what matters if the resource extraction is being done to maximise short term private gains, and it's not done in a way that allows communities to thrive or species to thrive or future generation to thrive that then yeah, you're right. They may be irreconcilable.

DR: Yeah, I want to come back to the question of Indigenous people and their worldview, that you you referenced, you know, in the relationship to their land. But before I get to that, I want to ask you about you mentioned the Idle No More campaign for Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protection. Can you tell us about that?

BL: That started, I think, in 2012, around that, and sort of about a decade ago. Idle No More was a very organic movement, it built momentum fairly quickly, it consistently manifests itself in a variety of ways from peaceful public protests to blockades occupations. It was I think it was a reaction to government legislation that further reduced Indigenous input with regard to land development, and would have sort of weakened the environmental assessment hurdles that would be necessary to get new projects approved. And so, there was a negative reaction to this legislation coming out of, of Indigenous communities across Canada. And it sort of took a life of its own evolved to real it to represent a host of grievances about the historical treatment of Indigenous people, the loss of sovereignty, the deplorable conditions that continued to be to be realised on reserves, the unemployment, loss of economic opportunity. So Idle No More kind of manifests into a variety of, you know, ways in which Indigenous communities expressed some frustration with historical and justices and the fact that this, you know, successive governments would speak to, you know, investing in, in Indigenous communities and, and trying to improve economic opportunities or health or whatever, without, without really seeing much evidence of action on that. And what was important here is that the media covered it. And so it moved the conversation really into the public. And it was done at the sort of at the same time because of the Truth and Reconciliations hearing. So, the TRC process was unfolding concurrently. So the media was covering those hearings as well. So, the public was hearing stories of survivors, and then hearing from the Idle No More protests, the, the legacy of that historical mistreatment, and how it continued to create injustices today.

DR: Well, so coming back to corporate social responsibility, you write how it's extremely problematic that Indigenous peoples are referred to as stakeholders. So, you know, can you elaborate on this and talk more about how stakeholders fit into the CSR framework and why this is problematic for referring to Indigenous people as such?

BL: Well, I suppose it's not that they're, they're not stakeholders, admitting to the fact that Indigenous peoples do have legitimate stakes is a good step. But identifying the fact that Indigenous peoples are, do have important interests at stake doesn't necessarily equate to action being taken to promote those interests. So, there's also perhaps maybe a false equivalency amongst stakeholders. So, a company may talk about stakeholders in sort of this homogenous kind of way without recognising the real diversity of interests and, and how the interest of Indigenous peoples may not be similar or reconciled with the interests of other stakeholders, and even the plurality of perspectives within Indigenous communities. So yeah, so that's, I think that's part of it. Part of the issue is, is that companies may then talk about the way in which they consult with stakeholders, but not not necessarily, how that translates into an influence over decision making. When a company is that's interested in, in land development, goes out into the community to talk to stakeholders, they aren't doing so to ask the question of whether they should be developing those lands in the first place. They're just asking how to best go about doing so. And maybe there might be some, you know, financial incentives that might, you know, appease different stakeholders, but the logic of development isn't really ever sort of brought to question. And with Indigenous communities, I think the real important question to ask is, are they able to provide consent. And so, part of the, so I'll just back up quickly, part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation around business was that they embrace a principle that's embedded in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that allows for Indigenous communities to provide what we call FPIC, Free, Prior and Informed Consent. So that really does change the nature of stakeholder of what kind of engagement would be necessary, you know, in the in the spirit of reconciliation, around to really bring Indigenous communities to the table to provide that kind of consensual, power sharing kind of relationship?

DR: Well, it seems that something that's really important is the worldview of the Indigenous people. And you talk about the role of spirituality and its significance to how they view things. Can you talk a little bit about Indigenous knowledge and how business and industries can create a space for Indigenous knowledge and values?

BL: Sure, my caution is that I'm not a knowledge keeper. So, I don't want to represent Indigenous knowledge or misrepresented, I suppose, you know, I'm a settler. And simply from what I've, I've come to understand, as is the sacred connection to land that is present within traditional lop knowledge that land is the connection horizontally between us and other species, and other elements of the Earth's biosphere, but it also connects us temporally to our ancestors and to future generations. So, there is a cultural, a physical, a cultural, spiritual connection that Indigenous communities have to land. And so, you know, what, what I think is important is to is for businesses to listen to knowledge keepers, to invite them into their organisations to articulate that connection. And so even the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that I cited a passage in my paper from that report in which they bring in a knowledge keeper, that was able to articulate that connection to the land. And it's not land, you know, it's not sort of land in, in the sense of any community’s, local backyard, but it is seen as much more holistically. And because part partly because the, the notion of place is fluid because of how Indigenous peoples have moved across the land. So, there are things that industries can do, I think, to learn about that.

DR: Right. So it sounds like so much of this when I was looking at your article, I was thinking, you know, so much of it comes down to education. And communication. And so that business people would go in and say, oh, you know, we need these resources. But then it's educating the employees of these companies of how best to relate to the people so that there's a fair and equitable exchange. Right?

BL: Exactly. Exactly. That's what, it's recommendation number 92 of the Calls to Action and there are only 94 of them and, and number 92 really the only one that speaks to what businesses can do. But it is about education partly, it's about educating employees of any firm on the history and experience of Indigenous people in Canada, on diversity and inclusion initiatives on Indigenous anti-racism work on human rights education. So, there is an education piece, education too, on the historical treaties that cover the land, that is of interest to that industry. So that's, that's part of it. And then the other part of that is bringing knowledge keepers into the organisation to share their knowledge and to help develop that that cultural literacy about Indigenous values and perspectives and how that could inform the decision making that happens within corporations. Even diversifying those decision making bodies to give, you know, specific voice to Indigenous people and engaging in power sharing relationships. And that ultimately, to get to that that point of free, prior and informed consent to really obtain that kind of consent to develop land in ways that are sustainable, that are that that satisfy, you know, that don't, I think, violate the sacred connections, so and the communities themselves would have to describe what kind of practices would be tolerable in what kind of restorative practices, so once, once a mind, for example, was decommission, what kind of restorative practices would be necessary to kind of restore that the harmony or the balance to the land.

DR: In your conclusion, I thought it was interesting that you suggest that CSR may not be an appropriate framework for reconciliation without alteration to his managerial biases and ideological assumptions. So if we reimagine CSR, how could it contribute towards the aims of reconciliation? How can we reimagine it so that it's beneficial? What sort of alterations will we need to make?

BL: Yeah, and the alterations are necessary because of the of the limitations and the critique that we've talked about nothing inherent to the CSR discourse, really disrupts the managerial agenda, disrupt sort of business as usual. And it could just be sort of a kinder, gentler version of status quo. But I think CSR can still be useful if we're willing to kind of push it further. The paper I wrote is a review paper. And, you know, there are other scholars that have made the same kinds of conclusions that, that maybe we don't just abandon CSR, but we demand more of that. And we stretch the boundaries, so that the inclusion of Indigenous spiritual cultural values is part of the decision making frameworks, that CSR really is able to break down the hierarchy between shareholders and other stakeholders. And that really gives voice in meaningful ways to the interests and needs of in the context of Indigenous people of people that have been historically marginalised in a colonial context. So if Indigenous people are able to kind of emerge from that as being self-determining, with regard to resource extraction projects through education and knowledge sharing inclusion, two way engagement, then, you know, see, there's nothing inherently problematic about a CSR framework that can't make space for that. But I’m just making the argument that CSR needs to make space for that, and just simply saying that, you know, we will engage with stakeholders doesn't sufficiently nudge CSR in the direction that I think is needed to for companies to be part of this this project of reconciliation.

DR: Yeah, it seems that this has really developed. This, this dialogue has developed over the last several years more concretely, do you, are you optimistic that businesses hearing this that there is an actual concrete change that might be happening?

BL: This is the short answer is I don't know fully. I worked with a student who research some of this in her honours thesis and looked at really basically just looking at CSR reporting. So, what the public disclosures were by companies with regard to the how Indigenous people were brought in as stakeholders in their CSR efforts. There was a change over time. So there was she looked over a 20 year period of various CSR reports coming out of mining companies in Canada. There was there was a change over time, there was certainly more discussion of Indigenous people of stakeholders in the last year of our study, which I think was 2017 was the last year of that she was able to pull the reports. You know, you could argue that she did find support for what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was calling for. And Indigenous training and employment opportunities were being discussed, there was discussion about learning from Indigenous elders, about more sustainable mining practices and respecting Indigenous cultural practices. But still those examples I don't think characterise the majority. And there were even fewer references to consent, the idea of Free, Prior, Informed consent and references to reconciliation, but but the needle moves every year, I'm optimistic. I think that because the discourse, you know, the broader sort of societal discourses of sustainability and equity are even more pronounced today than they were, you know, in 2015, when the Truth Reconciliation provided its recommendations. We, I think, you know, just the the IPCC report on climate change just came out, you know, magnifies the need to act. And so companies are really challenged with needing to demonstrate that they care about matters of sustainability and equity. And I don't think we can talk about sustainability and equity in the Canadian context without talking about Indigenous communities as well, not simply from the ways in which we they've been historically mistreated, but because of the knowledge that they can bring to bear if we're willing to look at these concepts through their worldview and to realise the validity of their sort of their frameworks for making sense of the world. They're their essence epistemological frameworks.

DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about our guest, a link to his article, as well as the transcript for the podcast on the homepage. I'd like to thank Chloe Campbell for help with today's episode and Alex Jungius of This is Distorted.