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16 Okt 2018

Canada explores legislation to eliminate child & forced labour in global supply chains; civil society urges passing comprehensive mHREDD legislation

Eliminating Child & Forced Labour in Canadian Supply Chains

In November and December 2017, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development undertook a study on child labour in supply chains. The Subcommittee received testimony and written briefs from representatives from non-governmental organizations, the private sector, academics, the ILO, and Government of Canada officials to inform the drafting of this study. The study includes several recommendations for how Canada can contribute to eliminating child labour and forced labour through its international assistance; support for education, law enforcement and judicial systems; free trade negotiations; engagement with Canadian businesses; procurement policies; and legislative and policy initiatives. 

A proposed Modern Slavery Bill was tabled in the House of Commons on 13 December 2018 by Liberal MP John McKay. The bill would require Canadian companies to publicly report on measures to reduce the risk of child labour and forced labour in their supply chains. It also gives the Canadian Border Service Agency the power to ban products and impose fines up to $250,000.

The Govt. of Canada issued its official response to the Parliamentary report on 8 February 2019. The response notes that the Govt. of Canada broadly agrees with the recommendations of the committee's report and "proposes to consider them within the wider policy, advocacy and programming actions that the Government of Canada is undertaking across a number of departments." 

In May 2019, the government began an online consultation on possible ways to address labour exploitation in global supply chains. In February 2020, three parliamentarians introduced new forced labour-focused legislation in the Senate. This proposed bill was criticized by numerous Canadian civil society groups for only focusing on child and forced labour, not on other human rights abuses in Canadian global supply chains. In addition, civil society groups expressed concerned that the bill does not compel companies to change their behaviour—to prevent, mitigate or redress abuses they detect — nor provide for remedy if companies do make use of child or forced labour. 

An updated version of the bill, Bill 216, was introduced in October 2020.

In December 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the Minister of Labour to prioritize introducing legislation to eradicate forced labour from Canadian supply chains.

In February 2022, the proposed forced labour legislation introduced in the Senate in 2020 began being studied at committee in Ottawa. At the same time, a separate and virtually similar bill was introduced to the House of Commons.

On 3 May 2023, the House of Commons passed a bill requiring Canadian companies to analyse and report on their supply chains to ensure products are not made with forced or child labour. Businesses that fail to report can face fines of up to $250,000. Products found to be made with forced labour can also be subjected to an import ban. Critics say the bill lacks sufficient teeth because victims do not have access to remedy and corporations can still evade accountability.

Mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence Legislation

In May 2021, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) released draft model mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (mHREDD) legislation. The model law, if adopted, would require Canadian companies to prevent human rights and environmental harm throughout their global operations and supply chains. Over 150 organizations and unions that work with people impacted by the activities of Canadian companies in 32 countries around the world have endorsed the CNCA’s proposed law.

In November 2021, 50 Canadian organizations and 11 international organizations called on the Canadian government to adopt the model mHREDD legislation.

In January 2022, Conservative Member of Parliament Marilyn Gladu endorsed the model legislation.

In March 2022, the House of Commons introduced Bill C-262, which if passed would required companies to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence.