Two sets of hands, each clasped together holding a small mound of dirt. © Amnesty International and Afrewatch.

Joint statement: Canada’s new law on forced, child labour in supply chains won’t work

Canada’s new law on forced and child labour in supply chains is bound to fail because it only requires companies to publish reports, and it risks making the problem worse by providing the appearance of real action, according to the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA).

In today’s vote on Bill S-211, 271 MPs voted to pass the law, and 57 voted against it.The Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act requires companies to report on what steps, if any, they have taken to prevent and reduce the risk of forced or child labour in their supply chains, but the law requires no action if companies are made aware of forced labour or child labour, and offers no assistance to victims.

‘A serious matter deserves a serious law’

“Canadian companies can continue to profit from forced labour and child labour, even when taking zero steps to stop it, or patently inadequate steps,” said the CNCA’s Policy Director, Emily Dwyer. “We’re talking about serious human rights violations including the exploitation of children, and a serious matter deserves a serious law.”

“The proposed law doesn’t actually require companies to do anything to combat forced or child labour,” said Farida Deif, Canada Director at Human Rights Watch. “The law’s toothless reporting obligation should be replaced by meaningful requirements to protect workers and provide remedies to victims.”

“As a labour rights activist and former child worker, I’ve witnessed first-hand how Canadian companies are linked to serious violations of workers’ human rights. Canada’s new forced and child labour reporting law will be no help whatsoever to the people I work with,” said Kalpona Akter, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity. “We are calling on the Canadian government to finally respond to these issues with the seriousness they deserve by passing a law on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence.”

“This new forced labour legislation does not meet the Minister’s mandate letter commitment to eradicate forced labour from Canadian supply chains and ensure that Canadian businesses operating abroad do not contribute to human rights abuses. Canada’s unions share the call for Canada to pass legislation that addresses these serious issues with the diligence they deserve,” said Beatrice Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Law doesn’t Canadian consumers avoid products made with forced, child labour

Furthermore, the law does nothing to assist responsible Canadian corporations and consumers. “This meaningless reporting bill won’t help people in Canada avoid products made with forced or child labour and won’t help level the playing field for Canadian companies that do take action against human rights abuse,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English-speaking section).

Before it passed, the serious flaws of Bill S-211 were detailed for Parliamentary and Senate committees, such as its failure to make companies liable for harm, provide access to remedy for victims via Canadian courts, or integrate other principles of the mandatory due diligence laws seen in other OECD countries.