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Choose right initiatives to end forced labour in our global supply chains

The following is a letter to the editor that was authored by Above Ground’s director, Karen Hamilton, and published in The Hill Times in response to an op-ed authored by Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne and MP John McKay.

Re: “It’s time for Canada and the G7 to make the fight against modern slavery a priority” (The Hill Times, June 2).

Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne and Liberal MP John McKay propose that Canada adopt Senate Bill S-216, the Modern Slavery Act. Readers should have an accurate picture of what that law would accomplish. While Bill S-216 is being touted as a move towards eliminating modern slavery, it would not actually require that companies take steps to ensure that their supply chains are free of forced or child labour. We wish it would. Instead, Bill S-216 would require that large companies publish a report each year describing actions they’ve taken, if any, to “prevent and reduce the risk” that forced, or child labour, is used in making the goods they import into Canada. A firm could be fined for failing to report or for giving false information, but not for knowingly profiting from forced and child workers.

Furthermore, the law doesn’t provide for liability or remedy to victims if companies make use of child or forced labour. Canadian lawmakers should build on best practice that has emerged from European supply chain legislative initiatives. These initiatives require that companies identify and prevent human rights abuses throughout their global operations and supply chains, and hold companies legally accountable when they’re linked to harm. This type of law, often referred to as “human rights due diligence” legislation, already exists in France, is under development at the European Union level, and is being studied and debated in parliaments and governments across Europe.

Senator Miville-Dechêne and MP McKay argue that Canada has “some catching up to do” to end forced labour in our global supply chains. Let’s choose the right initiatives to catch up to.