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Enforcing Canada’s forced labour import prohibition: Key challenges and recommended reforms

The importation of “goods mined, manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour” has been prohibited under Canadian law since July 2020. However, customs authorities have only once taken enforcement action under this prohibition.

In this report we examine weaknesses in Canada’s enforcement practices and rules that may have contributed to these underwhelming results, as well as possible solutions. We draw from legal analysis carried out in late 2023 by labour and trade lawyers at the firm Goldblatt Partners LLP. Their analysis shows that Ottawa could ensure more effective and transparent enforcement by making changes to enforcement practices and the rules governing these practices.

Nearly all of these reforms could be adopted right now, using current powers, requiring only minor changes to policies or to regulations under the Customs Act. They would not require new legislation. This means they could be adopted swiftly, to begin transforming the import prohibition from empty words into effective action to help protect workers’ rights in global supply chains.

As explained in detail in the report, we recommend that the Canadian government:

  • Conduct a review of its current enforcement framework
  • Routinely report on enforcement efforts and results
  • Ensure that the Canada Border Services Agency provides to its front-line officers directions that facilitate the identification of goods made with forced labour
  • When goods are determined to be made with forced labour, publish the name of the manufacturer, relying on the public interest exception to the general rule against disclosing customs information
  • Amend regulations to allow civil society actors to request determinations on goods before and after they’re imported
  • Establish a civil society advisory body and, with its input, target enforcement to minimize risk of inadvertent harm to workers 

Read the full report below.