Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights for their study on child and forced labor in supply chains. We appreciate the Canadian government’s recognition of child and forced labor in supply chains as a serious issue meriting further study and its exploration of legislative options to combat this problem. According to the International Labour Organization there are approximately 10 million in child slavery and nearly 152 million in child labor.[1] An estimated 40 million people around the world are effectively held in modern slavery conditions, including forced labor, debt bondage, and forced marriage.[2] Forced labor in supply chains is used to provide goods and services to markets around the world, though these chains are often hidden from view and shielded from accountability. It is incumbent upon governments across the globe to commit to combatting all forms of child labor and modern slavery found throughout supply chains and operations.

Some governments have taken steps to address modern slavery or other human rights abuses in supply chains. Some of the existing models include the UK Modern Slavery Act, the French “Duty of Vigilance” law, and the transparency act in California. The Netherlands and Australia have also been considering legislation. Human Rights Watch has concerns about some of these attempts, particularly related to their limited scope and application, low bar for compliance, and lack of recourse and accountability. As a result, these laws have not had their intended effect of eliminating forced labor in supply chains. For example, as of June 2017, only 14% of companies that submitted reports under the UK Modern Slavery Act comply with the basic legal requirements, but the lack of penalties under the law means companies face no consequences for non-compliance.[3] The Government of Canada has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership on this pressing issue, and build on existing models to ensure that legislative efforts are effective in combatting child labor and modern slavery.

Human Rights Watch has conducted research on child and forced labor in global supply chains for over two decades. We have interviewed thousands of workers, employers, government officials, and other affected individuals in the context of global supply chains in agriculture, the garment and footwear industry, fishing, mining, and construction. A list of relevant Human Rights Watch reports can be found in the attached Annex. Based on Human Rights Watch’s research and advocacy, we submit the following recommendations for Canadian legislation to combat human rights abuses in global supply chains.

  1. Legislation should address all serious human rights abuses in supply chains

Child and forced labor in supply chains are pressing problems requiring legislative action. In addition, corporate practices in global supply chains contribute to a variety of serious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch has documented such rights abuses including dangerous working conditions, verbal and physical abuse by employers, impediments or violations of the rights of free association and collective bargaining, and reduction or non-payment of wages. Such practices have profound and damaging impact on workers’ lives. The Government of Canada can and should take steps to ensure that supply chains providing goods and services to its markets exclude those that benefit from these abusive practices.

  1. Legislative requirements should be broadly applied

The Government of Canada can set a powerful example for responsible sourcing through its own public procurement practices. Any legislative efforts to address human rights in supply chains should include purchase of goods, services, and works by all government entities, including transparency and due diligence requirements.

Human Rights Watch also recommends that the Government of Canada consider banning import of all goods produced or manufactured using forced labor, slave labor, child labor, or labor of persons who have been trafficked. In the United States, for example, existing law provides for the banning of goods made with forced labor.[4]

Legislative action to combat human rights abuses should be broadly applied, both to Canadian corporations and to all corporations operating in Canada. While a threshold for application of the law may be set initially, it should be based not only on size of operation or revenue, but should also focus on all industries that have elevated risks for serious human rights abuses in supply chains. These include the agriculture, mining, and apparel sectors. Any threshold limits on size and revenue should be reduced over time, with additional support to small and medium enterprises, to ensure company supply chains are free of serious human rights abuses.

  1. Legislation should require transparency in supply chains

A first step to ensuring meaningful legislation would require companies to be transparent about their supply chains and operations. This would include detailed guidance to businesses on transparency and reporting requirements. With the goal of achieving meaningful transparency, Human Rights Watch recommends that the Government of Canada create a level playing field on transparency by introducing mandatory minimum transparency standards by sector, including identifying and publishing entities along the supply chain. Companies also should be required to disclose the results and methodology of their human rights due diligence. This would include disclosure of any child labor, modern slavery, and other serious human rights abuses found to be present in their supply chains and operations; their methods of ensuring appropriate remedies; and steps to prevent or mitigate future human rights abuses.

  1. Legislation should require companies to conduct human rights due diligence

Human rights due diligence would require companies not only to identify human rights risks in their supply chains, but also the methods to prevent, mitigate, and remedy any abuses found, supporting efforts to end abuses in supply chains. In addition, reporting requirements promote transparency and accountability for harm. Reporting requirements on their own, however, fall short of meaningful action to combat and prevent serious human rights abuses in supply chains. Detailed guidelines on due diligence and reporting will support company compliance with these requirements. Human Rights Watch strongly encourages the Government of Canada to incorporate mandatory human rights due diligence requirements in any proposed legislation consistent with existing international frameworks, such as those associated with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

  1. Legislation should include penalties for non-compliance

The Government of Canada should promote a business environment that respects human rights and works to prevent abuses in supply chains and operations. The government should work with businesses to ensure they understand and can comply with human rights due diligence and transparency requirements. Resources and guidance can be made available to ensure all necessary steps are taken to address serious human rights abuses in supply chains. In cases where companies have not taken good faith efforts to comply with regulation, they should face penalties. Penalties not only ensure that all companies subject to the law are compliant, but also ensure that companies committing resources to following through with human rights obligations are not disadvantaged by those who do not. Penalties can ultimately promote greater compliance, reducing the incidence of serious human rights abuses in supply chains.

  1. Legislation should create a civil course of action for those harmed by non-compliance

When companies choose not to follow reporting or due diligence requirements at the expense of workers in their supply chain, the government needs to ensure that workers around the world have a clear path to remedy and justice, including access to Canadian courts. Some countries are taking steps to address remedy gaps. For example, the French “Duty of Vigilance” law allows people to bring a claim in court if a company is not following through with the law. Canada should similarly create avenues for redress, such as a civil course of action, for workers harmed by companies that fail to identify and address serious human rights abuses in their supply chains.

  1. The Government of Canada should ensure adequate budget and infrastructure to enable implementation

Any legislation to combat serious human rights abuses in supply chains should be accompanied to by adequate budget and infrastructure to support effective implementation, including periodic public reporting on company and government performance. Government websites can support implementation with resources for companies on human rights due diligence and reporting requirements, including guidelines for remedying situations of child labor, forced labor, and other forms of modern slavery in supply chains. A public database on company reporting will also promote transparency and accountability for legislative requirements.

Thank you for your commitment to ending abusive human and labor rights practices in Canada’s supply chains. We appreciate the opportunity to provide input in this study. Should you like to discuss our findings or recommendations, please feel free to contact Human Rights Watch Canada Director, Farida Deif (deiff@hrw.org).

 

 

 

[1] 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery and Child Labour, Regional Brief for Africa, Alliance 8.7, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---ipec/documents/pub... (accessed December 11, 2017).

[2] Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, International Labour Organization, Geneva, 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/... (accessed December 11, 2017).

[3] Modern Slavery Reporting: Weak and Notable Practice, June 2017, http://corporate-responsibility.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Core_Exam... (accessed December 11, 2017).

[4] The Tariff Act of 1930, 19 USC. § 1307, and the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA), Pub. L. 14-125, 130 Stat. 122, sec. 910(a) (2016).