Trichur: Why Danby’s CEO is worried about refugee sponsorship as Canada teeters toward a recession

Of note, including the warning regarding the impact of a possible economic slump:

At a time when business leaders are bracing for a recession, Jim Estill is concerned about more than just his company’s bottom line.

The chief executive officer of Danby Appliances, a Guelph, Ont.-based manufacturer and distributor of household appliances, is also worried that an economic slump will further complicate efforts to sponsor and settle refugees.

Not only is the Canadian economy slowing, it has shed jobs for three consecutive months. Companies are still hiring, but the unemployment rate has climbed to 5.4 per cent.

That’s why Mr. Estill – who in conjunction with Danby, has sponsored hundreds of refugees since 2015 – is watching the cooling labour market with trepidation. After helping people from all over the world – including Syria, Congo, Myanmar, Venezuela, Afghanistan and Ukraine – he knows a recession will make it harder for refugees to find work and start new lives in Canada.

“If we end up with an unemployment rate that was higher, I could see people in the general population resenting refugees‚” he said during an interview at The Globe and Mail’s Growth Camp event for Canada’s top-growing companies.

As Mr. Estill points out, he and others faced little societal resistance to bringing in refugees when this country appeared to be swimming in unfilled jobs.

“Nobody was coming and taking your job. Because, okay, did you want the job at McDonald’s? No, there’s no lineup to take the job,” Mr. Estill said.

But social sentiments can shift during tougher economic times.

Sure, some of it is rooted in racism – but those people would have a problem with refugees even if GDP growth was going gangbusters.

Other folks, though, worry about the availability of jobs and affordable housing for their relatives and friends in a sputtering economy. That means a widely expected recession is shaping up to be a critical moment for refugee sponsorship and settlement in Canada.

History teaches us that newcomers often struggle to find and keep jobs during economic contractions. The COVID-19 downturn, for instance, disproportionately affected immigrant women in low-wage jobs.

“Immigrants often have more negative labour market outcomes during recessions than those born domestically,” a 2022 study by Statistics Canada states. It also notes that entering the labour market during a recession can result in a “scarring effect” that hurts immigrants’ earnings for years.

There’s not much research that focuses on refugees. But a 2019 Statistics Canada studydid track outcomes for 830,000 refugees from 13 countries.

Although it found “substantial” employment rates five years after their arrival, it also concluded their earnings varied based on their countries of origin.

“Ten years after entering Canada, the refugee groups with the highest earnings (i.e., from the former Yugoslavia, Poland and Colombia) earned roughly double what those with the lowest earnings did (i.e., from Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China),” the study said.

separate Statscan paper, published in 2020, found that privately sponsored refugees – such as those helped by Mr. Estill – tend to have higher employment rates and earnings than government-assisted refugees – even if they have lower levels of education.

Although Mr. Estill does not permanently employ every adult he sponsors, Danby’s 90-day program provides them with short-term work, English lessons, assistance with résumé writing and finding job coaches.

”It’s not government money that is that is paying for these people, it’s private money. It’s my money that’s paying to settle them, so it doesn’t cost taxpayers,” Mr. Estill said.

That underscores the importance of private refugee sponsorships, including those undertaken by individual entrepreneurs and corporations.

Danby is not alone in its efforts to help displaced people.

Companies including Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., National Bank of Canada, Bombardier Inc., KPMG Canada and Stingray Group Inc. have committed to sponsoring Ukrainian refugees displaced by the Russian invasion – but so many others also need help.

Mr. Estill, for one, is calling on the federal government to allow more refugees to enter the country.

Canada was the first country to introduce a private sponsorship program more than 40 years ago. But even so, getting privately sponsored refugees into the country can take years, which is why Mr. Estill advises other executives the program will not address their company’s short-term hiring needs.

He’s right to encourage others to think about the long-term benefits to Canada.

After all, some former refugees, such as Rola Dagher, a Lebanese-Canadian who is currently global channel chief at Dell Technologies, have gone on to make great strides in the business world. She came to Canada via Cyprus.

That brings us back to Corporate Canada. Which companies will be next to offer refugees a lifeline during these uncertain times?

“My problems are very first-world problems,” Mr. Estill explains. “It’s that we might be going into a recession. Oh no, my sales might not be as high as I’d like them to be. But they’re first-world problems.”

Thank you, sir. Well said.

Source: Why Danby’s CEO is worried about refugee sponsorship as Canada teeters toward a recession

Trichur: TD raising the bar for corporate Canada by agreeing to racial-equity audit

Look forward to seeing the results as I assume TD will share these at least at the macro level:

It’s often said in the corporate world that “what gets measured gets done.”

That’s why one of Canada’s biggest companies is heeding the call of an institutional investor to become more rigorous about assessing the effectiveness of its diversity and inclusion policies.

Toronto-Dominion Bank TD-N +0.48%increase is believed to be the first chartered bank and one of the first public companies in Canada to agree to an independent racial-equity audit to provide a reality check of its progress on dismantling systemic discrimination across its North American operations.

A racial-equity audit – also known as a racial-justice audit, a racial-equity assessment or a civil-rights report – is an important tool that helps shareholders determine which companies are taking real action on combatting racism. These audits are conducted by third parties and cover a company’s employment, compensation and business practices, including how it sells products and services. Companies are then expected to publicize the findings and use the feedback to fix problems.

Dozens of public companies, including Amazon, AT&T and Goldman Sachs in the United States, have received shareholder proposals calling for racial-equity audits over the past year, according to a search of securities filings conducted on the financial-intelligence platform Sentieo.

Although more investors are advocating for these audits, some companies still oppose this type of accountability. That’s why the commitment made by TD Bank is noteworthy – it is raising the bar for the rest of corporate Canada.

TD made its decision after holding talks with the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU). Specifically, TD has agreed to hire a third-party law firm to conduct a racial-equity assessment of its Canadian and U.S. employment policies. It has also agreed to provide updated information about the assessment by June 30, 2023.

The details are still a bit fuzzy, but it’s progress, folks.

Diana Lee, vice-president of diversity and inclusion at TD, said the bank recognizes that “assessment and measurement are vital tools to create meaningful progress” toward racial equity.

“We are committed to use the results of this racial-equity assessment to inform not only our employment policies and practices, but also our future business practices in supporting Black, Indigenous and minority customers and communities,” Ms. Lee added.

Separately, regulators are also putting increased pressure on banks to ensure their business practices don’t create disparate outcomes for racialized people. In the U.S., for instance, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans stricter enforcement of fair-lending laws and a crackdown on digital and algorithmic practices that potentially discriminate against Black customers.

TD, of course, isn’t the only Canadian bank with significant U.S. operations. BCGEU, which has withdrawn its shareholder proposal at TD in light of the bank’s commitment, is putting other lenders and public companies on notice.

“We will continue doing everything in our power as investors to make sure that racial-equity assessments and audits become standard practice for public issuers and institutions in Canada. We will start contacting other chartered banks on this issue after the TD AGM,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said.

“The bottom line is, it isn’t enough for Canadian public issuers and institutions to talk the talk of diversity and inclusion by developing and announcing policies; investors deserve to know what impact those policies are having.”

Property and casualty insurer Intact Financial Corp., meanwhile, has agreed to “assess some internal practices” and to “enhance disclosure,” a company spokeswoman said.

Intact received a proposal from the Shareholder Association for Research and Education, a non-profit organization that represents institutional investors, said Kevin Thomas, SHARE’s chief executive.

SHARE, along with its clients, is interested in various employment issues affecting insurers but also whether their underwriting assumptions create unequal impacts for racialized people.

It takes a similar approach with asset managers, advocating for racial equity within companies but also pushing them “to address the potential impacts of investment decisions down the chain with investee companies,” Mr. Thomas said.

SHARE, meanwhile, says it has also filed proposals with companies Mondelez and Constellation Software.

Mondelez has yet to publish its proxy circular so its position on the proposal is not clear. However, Constellation Software has already opposed the idea in its filing, arguing that while it believes in an equitable and inclusive work force, “the Corporation’s interests, as well as the interests of racial diversity, equity and inclusion, are best served by its existing organizational structure and approach.”

Ridiculous. We all know who benefits from the status quo. And – here’s a big hint – it’s never racialized people.

“Every CEO these days will tell you they are committed to diversity and inclusion,” Mr. Thomas said. “For investors, a racial-equity audit is our way of testing whether management is blowing smoke or whether they are delivering on that promise. That tells us a lot about management quality, ethics and their ability to implement on the goals they set – all critical questions for their investors.”

Companies must hold themselves accountable for the public pledges they made to eradicate systemic discrimination after the police murder of George Floyd nearly two years ago prompted a massive public outcry.

That’s why TD deserves kudos for agreeing to a racial-equity audit. By taking this important first step, TD is putting pressure on other public companies to follow suit. Investors will be watching to see which ones step up next.

Source: TD raising the bar for corporate Canada by agreeing to racial-equity audit

Trichur: Cirque du Soleil walking an ethical tightrope in Saudi Arabia

Valid questions and questionable ethics and values:

Send in the clowns.

Don’t bother. They’re here.

Cirque du Soleil is defending its decision to deepen its business ties with Saudi Arabia despite concern about that country’s human-rights record and the fate of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi – whose family lives in Quebec.

The Montreal-based entertainment company recently signed an agreement with the Saudi Ministry of Culture to bring more of its shows to the kingdom, including The IllusionistNow You See MePaw Patrol Live – Race to RescueTrolls Live! and Blue Man Group World Tour.

The agreement also sets the stage for Cirque to create an original performance for Saudi Arabia and to collaborate with its officials to establish a regional training academy and office.

Although Cirque is eager to generate new revenue after emerging from bankruptcy protection, its new owners are walking an ethical tightrope by doing more business with Saudi Arabia. The company has had six shows there since 2018, and some of those performances prompted a backlash from employees and ordinary Quebeckers. So it is baffling that it is risking a new controversy while there is widespread worry about Mr. Badawi’s case.

“Through our shows, our goal is always to inspire the local population and our presence in any market should not be interpreted as a political and moral stance,” Cirque spokeswoman Caroline Couillard wrote in an e-mail. “As a private company, we do not believe it is appropriate to interfere in the domestic and foreign affairs of the governments of the countries we visit.”

Let’s get real. This is where the rubber meets the road on corporate social responsibility. Cirque’s seemingly apolitical stance isn’t in keeping with its pledge to act “as a responsible agent of change.”

Saudi Arabia is talking a good game about cultural transformation these days, but it is still very much a repressive regime. Despite relaxing some social norms, the kingdom has made no substantial progress on human-rights issues since the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Its track record on human rights is already a sore spot with Canadians. We’ve learned that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) allegedly sent a hit squad to Canada in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Saudi intelligence officer Saad Aljabri not long after Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. And much to our collective horror, Canadian arms are fuelling the worsening conflict in Yemen (effectively a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran).

Now, with Ottawa calling on Riyadh to release Mr. Badawi from prison, offer him leniency and allow him to reunite with his family, Cirque’s new agreement comes at a particularly sensitive time for Canadian-Saudi relations.

Although Mr. Badawi is a Saudi citizen, his wife Ensaf Haidar and three children are Canadian. He was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing Saudi clerics on his blog. According to the Islamic calendar, Mr. Badawi’s prison term ends Feb. 28, but his release is far from certain. Even if he is liberated, he still faces a 10-year travel ban.

Perhaps that’s why the Cirque agreement caught the eye of Ms. Haidar, who congratulated MBS for it in a recent letter, written in French. She took the opportunity to urge him to release her husband and lift his travel ban.

“We believe that this gesture would be in perfect harmony with the reforms you are undertaking,” Ms. Haidar wrote.

Her tone was remarkably polite given the circumstances, but when the potential penalty for offence is to be cut into pieces like Mr. Khashoggi, it’s understandable.

Separately, Mr. Badawi’s supporters are urging Ottawa to grant him Canadian citizenship.

“The Government of Canada is very concerned by the case of Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia,” said Jeffrey MacDonald, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “We have consistently advocated on his behalf and will continue to use every opportunity to do so. His well-being is foremost in our minds.”

That’s why it’s unfathomable that Cirque would sign an agreement like this. And yet Ms. Couillard frames the deal as coming “on the heels of announced reforms and social changes in the country, as well as the announcement of business deals to build an entirely new entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia.”

However, Canadians are unlikely to buy into Saudi Arabia’s propaganda campaign, given how some of Cirque’s previous performances in the kingdom also generated controversy. Not only did Cirque’s own artists voice their concerns back in 2018, but so, too, did co-founder Guy Laliberté, according to a published report from Radio Canada International.

Cirque’s most recent performance in the country was Messi10, named after Argentinian soccer player Lionel Messi, which was held in 2021. Perhaps it should instead take its cues from entertainment heavyweights, such as rapper Nicki Minaj, who have cancelled shows there over human-rights concerns.

The company is twisting itself into a pretzel to justify this new agreement, but its mental gymnastics only risk courting more controversy.

Source: Cirque du Soleil walking an ethical tightrope in Saudi Arabia

Trichur: Microaggressions in the workplace cause more than bruised feelings. They also create business risks

Of note. While with respect to gender, applies more broadly:

Every workplace has at least one.

That guy who excels at preening, politicking and pushing women to the sidelines: Mr. Microaggression. He is a master of subtle slights and snubs.

Microaggressions are everyday comments or actions that trample the dignity of women but also visible minorities and other equity-seeking groups. Intentional or not, these acts of bias or discrimination cause great harm.

Human resources experts say such behaviours taint workplace cultures. And in the post-#MeToo era, these routine acts of exclusion, which are too often dismissed by managers, are creating legal, regulatory and reputational risks for companies.

“In our globalized world, overt racism, sexism and other prejudices are officially unacceptable – which unquestionably marks progress – but bias still finds expression in aversive or avoidant behaviour,” states a human resources guide prepared for UKG Inc. by Vancouver-based Parris Consulting.

“Where outright violence and oppression were once rampant, prejudice expresses itself more subtly now – in the form of microaggressions.”

Sure, some colleagues deserve the benefit of the doubt if they commit a faux pas or make a clumsy remark at work. But well-meaning folks generally have the reflex to acknowledge and apologize for hurtful behaviour.

Mr. Microaggression, however, undermines his colleagues with impunity. And make no mistake, everyone in your organization knows it.

Although he is not shy about showing disdain for certain male co-workers, women – especially those who are junior to him in age, rank or tenure – make up the majority of his targets because they are less likely to fight back.

He is, of course, smart enough not to say or do anything overtly sexist. After all, plausible deniability is pivotal to his pretense of professionalism.

Instead, his behaviour is less conspicuous: leaving female colleagues off e-mails, interrupting them during meetings, passing off his grunt work, going over their heads to snatch away plum assignments, commandeering internal committee work or elbowing them out of high-profile presentations to top bosses.

Some women are also guilty of flexing their privilege by perpetrating microaggressions against their colleagues. Whether it is on the basis of race, sexual orientation, disability or some other difference, such comments or actions amount to an abuse of power because they have the effect of discrediting their intended targets.

“Even if the slights are ignored or minimized, the work environment may still be chilly,” the human resources guide states. “It’s hard to feel collegial toward people who commit microaggressions. It’s uncomfortable pretending everything is okay when it’s not.”

Equally frustrating is the inaction of managers who chalk up such incidents to misunderstandings, coincidences or personality quirks. Perhaps the biggest mistake they make is appearing more concerned about placating the perpetrators instead of doing right by employees who have suffered repeated indignities.

Diversity and inclusion have become buzz words in corporate Canada. But business leaders who wilfully ignore systemic discrimination in their workplaces, including by downplaying the harmfulness of microaggressions, will experience higher turnover of top talent and expose their companies to legal and regulatory problems.

Microaggressions aren’t just about bruised feelings – they also create business risks.

Global banking regulators, for instance, are increasing their scrutiny of culture and conduct risks after being urged to do so by the Financial Stability Board, an international body that makes recommendations to improve stability of the global financial system.

In Canada, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), for instance, is continuing its “work on advancing culture as a key area of focus” in its supervision of financial institutions.

OSFI has wrapped up its initial cultural reviews of banks and insurance companies, spokeswoman Carole Saindon said in an e-mailed statement. Those introductory assessments specifically probed how cultural factors affect “strategic decision making” inside financial institutions.

“These reviews have provided insights into behavioural indicators such as transparency and communication, diversity of thought, ability to provide challenge and reflective learning,” Ms. Saindon said.

Of course, microaggressions are just one facet of a problematic corporate culture. It also clear that culture and conduct risks affect more than just banks and insurers. Recent scandals involving technology, entertainment or natural-resources companies also highlight the link between human behaviour, social mores and excessive risk-taking.

That’s precisely why, as a starting point, business leaders across all sectors must be pro-active about educating their employees about microaggressions and how to respond to them.

“It’s critical to understand the current thinking on microaggressions – how they are (or should be) defined, how they may cause harm, how and why they should be called out, and what critics have to say about them,” the human resources guide adds.

“This last point is crucial because organizations and HR professionals need to make decisions about employee relations. If an accusation of committing a microaggression is levelled, they will need to understand it from all sides.”

Still, the onus shouldn’t be on women and minorities to solve the systemic discrimination they face at work. That’s the responsibility of business leaders and HR departments.

The #MeToo movement should have been a wake-up call for the business community that microaggressions can signal much deeper problems with corporate cultures. In fact, there’s even a microaggression app for women in the workplace, Variety reported earlier this year.

Managers need to stop coddling toxic employees. Mr. Microaggression isn’t misunderstood by his coworkers, he’s a menace to your company. Time to keep him in check.


Blood money from Saudi Arabia arms deals casts Canada as an international sellout

Good commentary by Rita Trichur:

What’s the price of human dignity?

That’s the question that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must ask himself as his government maintains a twisted economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which boasts one of the world’s worst human-rights records.

As the Trudeau government pledges a feminist economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and vows to fight systemic discrimination, Canadian arms sales to Saudi Arabia are inflaming the war in Yemen, according to a recent report published by the UN Human Rights Council. That five-year conflict, which is effectively a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is systematically brutalizing women and children.

Marked by widespread child starvation and endemic sexual violence, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has become so gruesome that the independent experts who penned that UN report are urging the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes prosecutions.

Yet, for unfathomable reasons, Canada continues to do billions of dollars worth of military business with Saudi Arabia’s repressive regime. That blood money is casting Canada as an international sellout on human rights and emboldening Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

MBS’s repressive behaviour inside and outside the kingdom has plumbed new depths since the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two years ago. So, why is Ottawa maintaining such tainted financial ties?

Although Canada imposed a temporary ban on new military export permits after Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, that moratorium was lifted this past April.

“That sends absolutely the wrong message,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), a Washington-based non-partisan, non-profit organization that supports democratic reform in the Middle East.

“There has been no progress on any human rights issues in Saudi Arabia since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi … Unfortunately, the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia have only proceeded to get worse.”

Much of the controversy over Canada’s military exports to Saudi Arabia have centred on Ottawa’s decision to honour a $14-billion contract to sell light armoured vehicles (LAVs) built in London, Ont., by a subsidiary of U.S. defence contractor General Dynamics Corp.

When lifting the permit moratorium in April, Canadian officials claimed their military export review had produced no evidence the Saudis were using Canadian-made machinery to commit human-rights violations.

Perhaps they weren’t looking hard enough.

Even before the recent UN Human Rights Council report named and shamed Canada for fuelling the war in Yemen with arms exports to Saudi Arabia, there were already videos of Canadian-made military vehicles being used in that conflict.

Separately, the Crown corporation that brokered the LAV deal was slammed by the Auditor-General’s office in July for failing to scrutinize export contracts for human-rights risks.

Human-rights groups are putting pressure on Canada to cancel the LAV deal, but Ottawa is reticent. Government officials have previously warned of hefty financial penalties and the loss of Canadian jobs.

In an effort to assuage Canadians last April, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the terms of the LAV contract had been amended. Ottawa’s financial risk would be eliminated in cases “where future export permits are delayed or denied” should it be proved the kingdom is using the LAVs for non-defensive purposes.

Clearly, our federal officials need remedial lessons on mastering the art of the deal.

Make no mistake, Canada is already paying a steep price for being willfully blind to Saudi Arabia’s transgressions. As Ottawa bends over backward to fulfill the ill-conceived LAV contract, MBS is making a mockery of Canadian sovereignty.

Not only did he allegedly send a hit squad to Canada in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Saudi intelligence officer Saad Aljabri about two years ago, Mr. Aljabri is facing a new murder threat by MBS’s agents, The Globe and Mail reported in August. The very idea a Khashoggi-type killing could potentially transpire on Canadian soil is horrific.

To make matters worse, Canada is shoring up the kingdom’s flagging financial fortunes by importing billions of dollars in Saudi oil – more than $3-billion worth last year alone – even though the kingdom’s crude oil price war with Russia earlier this year made collateral damage of our energy industry.

In order to preserve what’s left of Canada’s credibility, Ottawa needs to slap a tariff on Saudi oil imports and ban military exports to the kingdom until it substantially improves its human-rights record.

Canada should also boycott next month’s virtual Group of 20 leaders summit, which will be chaired by MBS’s father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Under no circumstances should Canada give Saudi Arabia cover at that international gathering.

Doing business with a repressive regime is no doubt profitable for Canada, but that quid pro quo comes at a cost: the loss of human life. The world expects better of us.

“Up until now Canada has had a reputation of being a country that does adhere to its principles and values and does respect human rights,” Mr. McInerney said. “These kinds of moves do legitimately threaten and erode that positive reputation.”