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Progress on the pathway to mandatory human rights due diligence in Canada

In recent weeks, three important developments have taken place that show growing support for human rights due diligence legislation in Canada, and have planted the topic firmly within policy debates on Parliament Hill.

House of Commons
The House of Commons, in Canada’s Parliament

First, member of Parliament Peter Julian introduced a bill in the House of Commons that would, if passed, establish human rights due diligence legislation in Canada. The law would require firms based in Canada to take effective action to prevent and remedy human rights abuse overseas in their operations and supply chains. The bill contains the key elements of the model proposed by the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), including provisions to secure access to justice in Canadian courts for people who’ve been harmed.

Second, a Senate committee studying a bill that would require corporate reporting on forced and child labour heard testimony from one expert witness after another urging that Canada move beyond mere reporting obligations and instead require human rights due diligence. The Senate bill would require companies only to report what they’re doing — if anything — to address forced and child labour in their supply chains.

“I can assure you, senators, that this bill will fail to prevent modern slavery,” warned Surya Deva, a member of the UN’s working group on business and human rights, who called instead for a “comprehensive human rights due diligence law.” Also calling for human rights due diligence legislation were representatives from the International Justice and Human Rights Clinic at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law, the CNCA and the Shareholder Association for Research and Education.

Finally, the Canadian government itself has acknowledged that there is broad public support for mandatory human rights due diligence, including from businesses. In a report released last month following consultations on potential supply chain legislation, the government notes “strong support” for a human rights due diligence law across civil society and labour organizations, investor organizations and academia. Most of the business and industry representatives it consulted — 71 percent — “agreed that businesses should be required to conduct due diligence” on their supply chains.

Of course, the perspectives that count the most in this discussion are those of the workers and communities whose lives are affected by Canadian firms’ activities and supply chains. Tomorrow, April 27, the CNCA will host a roundtable with human rights and environment defenders from Zambia, Ecuador and Bangladesh, whose stories will illustrate why a due diligence law is so urgently needed in Canada.

The virtual roundtable takes place 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EDT, on Zoom with simultaneous interpretation. The speakers are

  • Kalpona Akter, director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity
  • Reverend Emmanuel Chikoya, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Zambia
  • Josefina Tunki, president of the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA) in Ecuador

Advance registration is required. Further information including speakers’ bios can be found here.