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Vital reforms that Canada could adopt right away to fight forced labour in supply chains

Evidence of the widespread use of forced labour globally continues to accumulate, with stories of harrowing abuse on Chinese fishing vessels and in a Thai textile factory as just the latest examples.

Fishery workers
The seafood industry is widely recognized as being high-risk for forced labour.

Lawmakers face urgent demands for new measures to halt and prevent this abuse. In wealthy nations many are now debating, among other questions, how to address their countries’ enormous business and supply chain links to forced labour abroad.

One of the most powerful options they have is strong mandatory human rights due diligence legislation. This would ensure abused workers can seek justice against the companies at the top of supply and profit chains. For years we’ve worked with NGOs, academics and legal experts to develop and promote this model in Canada.

We’ve also recently joined forces with civil society groups around the globe to advocate for best practice in the use of import bans to fight forced labour. The Coalition Against Forced Labour in Trade, launched in September, aims to “ensure there is no safe harbour for goods tainted by forced labour in any country.”

Meanwhile, as lawmakers in Brussels work out the details of an EU ban on products of forced labour, increasing attention is falling on how the U.S. and Canada are enforcing—or not—their import bans.1

Ottawa has promised legislation to “strengthen” the forced labour import ban and “eradicate” forced labour from Canadian supply chains. We recently made recommendations for this legislation in a submission to the government. It draws on lessons learned from our partners in the coalition and from legal analysis we sought out to identify options for better enforcement of the ban.

We’re calling for several reforms, including that the government:

  • publicly report details about the goods it classifies as products of forced labour, including the manufacturer’s name;
  • make amendments to allow civil society actors to formally request classification of goods before or after they’re imported; and
  • consult regularly with a civil society advisory body on how to best enforce the ban with a view to protecting workers’ rights.

We also recommend that Canada adopt a mandatory due diligence law without delay. The government has had at its disposal for years now a robust and detailed model developed by legal experts. It has been endorsed by hundreds of civil society groups and tens of thousands of Canadians.

In considering these measures, lawmakers mustn’t forget that hidden behind the abstract phrase “forced labour” are millions of people suffering grievous harms they cannot escape. Like being driven into massive debt to pay recruiters, lied to about the wages, nature or conditions of work, and routinely exposed to deadly hazards. The evidence suggests that their numbers grow by the day.

The need for action is urgent, and while these reforms would be but one part of the solution, they could be adopted right away.

Read the submission:

1. Canada’s ban has gone almost entirely unenforced since being adopted in 2020. Customs authorities confirmed to us in June of this year that only a single shipment of goods had ever been detained and classified as being produced by forced labour. This decision was later reversed.