14 February 2023

Since July 2020, when Canada’s prohibition on importing goods produced by forced labour came into effect, investigations by media and civil society groups have repeatedly found instances of companies sourcing products allegedly made with forced labour abroad — including products banned from entering the U.S. market for this reason. We reported many examples, for instance, in our 2021 report on Canadian business ties to forced labour abroad.

This topic has been thrust into the media spotlight again several times since then. Corporate law blogs have also reported extensively on Canada’s import ban and on anticipated legislation that will require firms to disclose the steps they’re taking, if any, to reduce the risk of forced labour in their supply chains. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that the business community in Canada is broadly aware of this issue, and that firms with particularly high-risk supply chains would be able to show what they’re doing to avoid sourcing products made with forced labour.

Between August and October 2022, we wrote to 30 importers in Canada that have sourced goods from manufacturers suspected to have employed forced workers.1We identified these importers by searching the Panjiva global trade database for shipments to Canada from manufacturers of concern. These were manufacturers sanctioned by the U.S. over their alleged use of forced labour or named in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s March 2020 report, Uyghurs for Sale, as having allegedly employed ethnic minority workers in or from East Turkestan / Xinjiang, China, through coercive state-run “poverty alleviation” programs. Each record showed a shipment arriving at a U.S. port that was destined to a recipient company (“consignee”) in Canada. The records we found likely represent a small portion of imports into Canada from these suppliers, because Panjiva provides access to records of only some shipments sent to Canada through U.S. ports. Records of shipments arriving at Canadian ports aren’t publicly accessible. Also, we could only identify shipments containing a given manufacturer’s product when the manufacturer was listed as the shipper or, in rare instances, in the description of goods shipped. We offered each importer the opportunity to provide comment on its business with the given manufacturer in light of the allegations. Links to our correspondence with the importers that replied, including their response, can be found in the summary table at the bottom of this page.2We informed each company that its response would be made public. Overall, our primary findings from this exercise are as follows:

  • Most of the companies contacted — 19 in total — did not reply. This includes companies that have sourced substantial volumes of goods from the manufacturers in question. We received no reply from Olera Ingredients & Distribution, for instance, which was sent shipments of more than $6.5 million worth of palm oil from Sime Darby Plantation in 2021 and 2022, when this product was banned from importation into the U.S.3The U.S. government lifted the ban in February 2022, citing “satisfactory evidence that Sime Darby Plantation Berhad, its subsidiaries, and joint ventures no longer produce palm oil and its derivative products using forced labor.”
  • Of the companies that did reply, most provided few details about their past or ongoing business with the manufacturer.
  • Some companies reported efforts to look into the allegations of forced labour. This consisted of communication with the manufacturer in most cases. For example, staff from Superior Glove Works told us they “were in communication” with their supplier upon learning of the allegations. From this they “understood that not all claims were substantiated” and that “substantiated claims had been addressed.”
  • Ansell, Home Depot, The Brick and Whirlpool Corporation reported a general policy of monitoring some or all of their suppliers’ practices through independent audits, but only The Brick specified whether the supplier in question had been audited.4From The Brick’s response to us in October 2022: “The Brick has conducted audits or has reviewed third party audits of Hefei Meiling and is satisfied that no forced labour is used in the production of Brick product.”
  • Several companies — Danby, Home Depot, The Brick, Whirlpool Corporation and Wipeco Industries — said they had stopped buying products from the manufacturer in question. In some cases it was unclear if this decision was made based on the forced labour allegations.
  • One importer, Ansell, said it had reduced its purchases from the supplier in question while that supplier was being investigated by American authorities.
  • One importer, Supermax Healthcare Canada, declined to say whether it has continued to source from a supplier whose products have been banned from the U.S. market since October 2021. It revealed only that it has “increased the diversification of [its] suppliers.”5Supermax Healthcare Canada stated in November 2021 that it would “consider all options available to rectify the situation, including sourcing from an alternative supplier” if the forced labour allegations were substantiated by independent audits that were underway. The company’s letter sent to us in October 2022 indicated that these audits were still “ongoing” at that time.

It’s important that the public be able to assess how importers are responding to such situations, because right now Canada’s only active strategy to fight forced labour in global supply chains is to encourage voluntary action by companies. Canada’s ban on importing products of forced labour has gone almost entirely unenforced:6This ban is modelled after a similar provision in U.S. law. In both Canada and the U.S., border authorities are expected to block products of forced labour from entering the domestic market by detaining shipments of these goods as they arrive at the border. In other respects Canada’s enforcement framework differs dramatically from that of the U.S. Since the ban was adopted, Canadian authorities have reported only one shipment of goods being detained, and the decision was later reversed. authorities have not permanently blocked a single product from entry, and as of March 2022 they had yet to “effectively operationalize” the ban.

Unfortunately, in most cases we didn’t receive enough information from these importers to gain a meaningful understanding of how they investigate and act on reports of forced labour in their supply chains.

The silence of the 19 importers who didn’t reply at all should give pause to proponents of Bill S-211 who’ve argued that once firms face public scrutiny over potential abuse in their supply chains, they will feel compelled to take meaningful steps to end it. It would simply be too embarrassing for a firm to report that it’s taken meagre steps to address the problem, the theory goes.

Yet here we’ve informed companies that their sourcing from manufacturers accused of using forced labour will be publicly reported, and more than half opted not to provide any information about how they’re handling the concerns raised. Whatever reputational concerns may have come into play, they did not result in so much as a reply. It seems all the more tenuous to expect that, under Bill S-211, such concerns will be sufficient to drive fundamental changes in business practices.

Manufacturer, product typeBasis of concernSanction(s) imposed on manufacturerCanadian importersDate range of import recordsImporter response?
Hero Vast Group and its subsidiaries, incl. Hero Vast Canada, clothingi Use of prison labour in China, according to U.S. authorities.ii
(Note that Canada has prohibited the importation of goods made with prison labour since 1998.)
Imports into U.S. banned since Aug 2020Haggar CanadaiiiJan – Dec 2018Unreachable
Mark’s Work WearhouseApr 2020No
Sime Darby Plantation, palm oil productsInformation that “reasonably indicates the presence of all 11 of the International Labour Organization’s forced labor indicators” in Sime Darby’s production process, according to U.S. authorities.ivImports into U.S. banned from Dec 2020 to Feb 2023vNatu'oil ServicesApr – Jun 2021No
Olera Ingredients & DistributionAug 2021 – Jul 2022No
Supermax Glove Manufacturing, Maxwell Glove Manufacturing and Maxter Glove Manufacturing, disposable glovesInformation that “reasonably indicates their use of forced labor in manufacturing operations” in Malaysia, according to U.S. authorities.viImports into U.S. banned since Oct 2021Supermax Healthcare CanadaNov 2021 – May 2022Yes
A.D. (Affiliated Distributors) CanadaJul 2022No
Top Glove Corporation and its subsidiaries TG Medical and Top Glove Sdn Bhd, disposable gloves Worker reports of debt bondage, confiscation of passports, excessive overtime, deplorable conditions in worker housing.viiImports into U.S. banned from Jul 2020 to Sep 2021AMD Medicom Inc. Jan 2021No
Ansell Canada Aug 2020 – Apr 2021Yes
LatoplastAug 2020 – Aug 2021Yesviii
Limson CanadaAug – Dec 2020No
McCordick Glove & SafetyNov 2020 – Jul 2021No
Protective Industrial Products (PIP) CanadaApr 2021No
Superior Glove Works Jul 2020 – Apr 2021Yes
Wayne Safety Oct – Nov 2020No
Wipeco IndustriesJan – Feb 2021Yes
Hefei Meiling / Changhong Meiling, appliancesAlleged employment in 2018 of more than 1,500 workers through China’s labour transfer program targeting ethnic minorities in East Turkestan / Xinjiangix On U.S. entity listx since Jul 2020; imports into U.S. banned since Jun 2022Best Buy CanadaxiNov 2019 – Feb 2020Noxii
The Brick Warehouse Jul 2019 – Nov 2020Yes
Danby Products Ltd. CanadaOct 2018 – Jul 2021Yes
Home Depot CanadaJul–Sep 2018
Stirling MarathonApr 2019 – May 2021No
Whirlpool CanadaJul 2018Yes
KTK Group, rail equipmentAlleged participation in China’s labour transfer program targeting ethnic minorities in East Turkestan / Xinjiang, starting in Jul 2019xiiiOn U.S. entity list since Jul 2020; imports into U.S. banned since Jun 2022Alstom CanadaxivNov 2020 – Jul 2021Noxv
GE CanadaJan – Aug 2019Noxvi
Foxconn Technology (aka Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.), electronicsAlleged participation in China’s labour transfer program targeting ethnic minorities in East Turkestan / Xinjiang, starting in 2019xviiArris CanadaxviiiSep 2019 – Jan 2022No
Best Buy CanadaMay 2019 – Apr 2020No
Google CanadaSep 2020 – Apr 2022No
Sharp ElectronicsNov 2020 – Jun 2022
Vertiv CanadaMay 2020 – Apr 2022No
Hubei Haixin Protective Products Co., disposable protective productsAlleged participation in China’s labour transfer program targeting ethnic minorities in East Turkestan / Xinjiang since Mar 2019xxTribute PharmaceuticalsxxiJun 2017 – Apr 2019Unreachable
Jianhua Zhongxing Glove Co., ski glovesAlleged participation in China’s labour transfer program targeting ethnic minorities in East Turkestan / Xinjiang, starting in 2014xxiiKombi SportsxxiiiSep 2016 – Sep 2020 No
Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., shoesAlleged employment of thousands of workers through China’s labour transfer program targeting ethnic minorities in East Turkestan / Xinjiang since 2007xxivNike CanadaNov 2007 – Dec 2020
See 2020 statement by parent company Nike Inc.
  1. In addition to the importers whose shipment records we found, Hero Vast Group has listed many other well-known clothing retailers as Canadian customers on its website, which is no longer operational.
  2. We were unable to find any statements made by Hero Vast Group in response to these allegations.
  3. We’ve listed here importers receiving shipments from China either shipped by Hero Vast Group or marked as containing Hero Vast products. We were not able to determine if the goods came from the specific facility where prison labour was allegedly employed.
  4. In response, Sime Darby Plantation stated that it “is committed to combatting forced labour” and the “allegations made suggest a breach in the implementation of SDP’s own strict policies.” It announced in March 2021 it had engaged a consultant to evaluate “labour practices across its Malaysian operations.” Further statements about its employment practices can be found at simedarbyplantation.com/human-rights.
  5. The U.S. government later made a formal “finding” (in 2022) that “Sime Darby Plantation and its subsidiaries are using forced labor on Sime Darby's plantations in Malaysia.” Shortly thereafter Sime Darby announced “sweeping changes” to its operations, including reimbursements to be made to foreign workers for recruitment fees. The U.S. lifted its ban in February 2023, citing “satisfactory evidence” that the company “no longer” produces palm oil using forced labour.
  6. In November 2021 the parent company, Supermax Corporation, stated that “corrective steps have started and improvements made to labour welfare,” and it reportedly ordered independent audits of labour practices at the Malaysian facilities. It later announced new employment policies and declared in June 2022 that workers at its sites were “free from systemic forced labour” and that it was “not in violation of any of the 11 ILO forced labour indicators.”
  7. See reporting by CBC in January 2021 and The Guardian in 2018. Top Glove denied the presence of forced labour indicators in its operations in statements such as its January 2021 response to CBC’s reporting, which it called “thoroughly misleading.” In September 2021, the U.S. lifted its detention order on Top Glove, saying the firm had “addressed all indicators of forced labor identified at its Malaysian facilities” and issued more than $30 million in remediation payments to workers.
  8. The reply we received was from Forcefield Canada, which is one of Latoplast’s brands.
  9. We were unable to find any statements made by Hefei Meiling in response to these allegations.
  10. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s "Entity List." U.S. firms are generally barred from selling goods to companies on this list. The companies mentioned here, Hefei Meiling and KTK Group, were added to the list on the basis of their alleged use of forced labour.
  11. We’ve listed here importers receiving shipments sent from China by Hefei Meiling. We were not able to determine if the goods came from the specific factory where forced workers were allegedly employed.
  12. In January 2021, the Toronto Star reported that Best Buy, when questioned over its sourcing from this supplier, “would not comment on its shipments from Changhong Meiling, but said in a statement that it has ‘multiple processes in place to make sure our partners are behaving ethically.’”
  13. KTK Group states that “in 2018-19 it did employ a small number of workers from Xinjiang, who were not ethnically Uyghurs,” but that it “has never been involved in the employment of any forced labour.” See Rail Express, 27 July 2020 and The Guardian, 28 July 2020.
  14. We’ve listed here recipients of shipments sent from China by KTK Group. We were not able to determine if the goods came from the specific factory where forced workers were allegedly employed.
  15. Alstom, the parent company of Alstom Canada, stated in May 2021 that it had recently undertaken “a review of alleged forced labour issues in the Supplier’s factories supplying Alstom” and that “no human rights incidents at the plant that supplies us could be identified.”
  16. GE, the parent company of GE Canada, stated in May 2021 that it had recently undertaken a review that “revealed no findings that GE or its direct suppliers are implicated in the abuse of Uyghur or other minorities in China.”
  17. A Foxconn spokesperson told reporters in March 2020 that “[a]t no time has Foxconn ever had employees in its workforce in any market who have not voluntarily joined our firm." The company also responded to the allegations in May 2021 with a statement describing its process for “ensuring that the rights of each and every employee are protected.”
  18. We’ve listed here recipients of shipments sent from China by Foxconn or one of its subsidiaries. We were not able to determine if the goods came from the specific factory where forced workers were allegedly employed.
  19. Parent company Sharp Corporation stated in June 2021 that it found “our company was not involved in the forced labor issue in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. However, ... from a preventive perspective, we plan to further expand our human rights due diligence efforts in the supply chain.”
  20. In response to the allegations, a company spokesperson said in July 2020 that Uyghurs were part of its workforce under the government’s policy of “supporting Xinjiang development,” stating that “[w]e need to develop the western region, let the people there be employed, and improve their living standards...”
  21. This importer was the recipient of a shipment sent from China by Hubei Haixin. We were not able to determine if the goods came from the specific factory where forced workers were allegedly employed.
  22. The company’s website refers to a factory “set up in Xinjiang province in 2014” that “provides huge opportunities of employment.” We were unable to find any statements made by the company in response to the allegation of forced labour.
  23. This importer was the recipient of shipments sent from China by Jianhua Zhongxing Glove Co. We were not able to determine if the goods came from the specific factory where forced workers were allegedly employed.
  24. Qingdao Taekwang Shoes’ main customer, Nike, states that in 2019 its supplier “stopped hiring new employees from XUAR [the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] to its Qingdao facility and an independent third-party audit confirmed there are no longer any employees from XUAR at the facility.”