HANSARD: Fighting against forced labour and child labour in supply chains act

House of Commons Debate
Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act
Private Members' Business
March 6th, 2023 / 11:45 a.m.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, today we are debating Bill S-211, which claims to fight against forced labour and child labour in supply chains. There is no question that global supply chains continue to be tainted with forced labour and child labour. Millions of people around the world experience conditions of modern slavery. Horrifically, this includes young children who, too often, harvest the food we eat and manufacture the clothes we wear.

Sadly, progress toward eradicating child and forced labour has stalled and even reversed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the report from the International Labour Organization warned that child labour was increasing for the first time in two decades. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of children in child labour increased to 160 million worldwide; 79 million of these children, some as young as five years old, are working in conditions considered to be hazardous, which means that the work is likely to harm their health, safety and morals.

Economic impacts of the pandemic, leading to school closures and income loss among low-income families globally, have pushed more children into these dangerous working conditions to try to earn a living. The reality is that forced labour conditions exist in nearly every country. Canada is deeply implicated in perpetuating these human rights abuses. Under the current legislative framework, there is no corporate accountability for companies that profit from the exploitation in their supply chains.

According to a report from World Vision in 2016, it is estimated that over 1,200 companies operating in Canada are importing over 34 billion dollars' worth of goods at high risk of being produced by child or forced labour every year. The agricultural and grocery industry is one of the worst offenders for forced labour and child labour: 71% of all child labour takes place in the agricultural sector, and many of these items end up on Canadian grocery store shelves.

In 2019, more than 3.7 billion dollars' worth of risky food products were imported into Canada, a 63% increase from 10 years ago. During the same pandemic period when Canada's major grocery chains raked in record profits, the use of child and forced labour in agricultural supply chains increased. As Canadians get gouged with greedflation at the grocery checkout, corporate giants fail to take action on ending forced and child labour in their supply chains. World Vision reported that corporate social responsibility reports from Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys, Canada's three largest grocers, yield “little meaningful information about what they are doing to address the risk of child labour in their supply chains.” There are record profits, yet zero accountability to respect human rights. This is egregiously wrong. 

Unfortunately, we know that these issues extend far beyond the agricultural sector. In 2021, CBC reported that Canadian clothing brands sold items manufactured by North Korean forced labour at a Chinese factory. Recently, I spoke about the genocide against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims. This is again relevant to raise, because these issues are connected. Many products sold in Canada are manufactured with Uighur forced labour. Between 2017 to 2019, it is estimated that more than 80,000 Uighurs were forcibly transferred out of the Uighur region to work in factories across China. In 2020 alone, reports reveal that 83 global companies were indirectly or directly involved in employing Uighur workers under conditions of forced labour. From food products, clothing and textiles to the supply chains of major auto manufacturers, the use of Uighur forced labour is widespread. 

Canada can and must do more to uphold human rights and work to eradicate child and forced labour. The NDP wants to ensure that products imported into Canada are not produced with forced labour or child labour. New Democrats believe that Canada has a responsibility to ensure that supply chains of products sold in Canada are free from these egregious human rights violations. 

The government has an international human rights obligation to do this, but due to the inaction of successive Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada is lagging behind other jurisdictions. European countries such as France have already passed due diligence legislation, which requires that companies take action to address child labour and forced labour. Importantly, this also provides legal recourse if efforts are shown to be inadequate.

The Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability has been calling for human rights and environmental due diligence legislation in Canada. The organization has even drafted model legislation, providing a blueprint for writing into Canadian law the corporate duty to respect human rights and the environment.

For over a decade, the CNCA has also been calling for an independent ombudsperson office with the power to investigate human rights complaints related to Canadian corporate activity abroad. The Liberals announced that they would create this independent ombudsperson office in 2018, yet today this is just another empty promise from the government. Instead, the government has created a powerless advisory post.

It is clear that there is much work to be done. That is why NDP members, in working with policy experts on these issues, have put forward two critical pieces of legislation. Bill C-262, the corporate responsibility to protect human rights act, would implement the human rights and environmental due diligence that is needed. It would hold companies accountable for their actions and allow victims of human rights and environmental harm the statutory right to bring a lawsuit against that company. Bill C-263 would give the Office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise the powers needed to actually do its job and investigate and hold companies accountable. 

The CNCA, which includes member groups such as Oxfam Canada, Amnesty International Canada and Human Rights Watch Canada, supports these steps, but it is yet to be seen whether other parties will do the right thing.

Today, we are here debating Bill S-211. From the outset, the NDP recognized that this bill was deeply flawed. New Democrats agree with the view that CNCA shares: that, unamended, this bill is damaging because it creates the appearance of action to end modern slavery without actually having that effect. As currently drafted, Bill S-211advances none of the essential elements of an effective supply chain law.

According to the CNCA:

Bill S-211 would require companies to report on what steps, if any, they have taken to prevent and reduce the risk of forced or child labour in their supply chains. It would only apply to a small minority of companies; it does not require these companies to stop using child or forced labour or to conduct human rights due diligence; and it is silent on other egregious human rights abuses (such as mass rape, murder and torture), as its focus is limited to child or forced labour. 

Recognizing the flaws of this bill, the NDP proposed six amendments at committee stage to improve the legislation based on expert testimony, yet the government rejected all of them.

Canada needs to do much more to fight forced labour and child labour. The Minister of Labour's own mandate letter instructs him to “introduce legislation to eradicate forced labour from Canadian supply chains and ensure that Canadian businesses operating abroad do not contribute to human rights abuses.”

Bill S-211 fails to do that. Therefore, the NDP will be voting against this legislation. We will continue to advocate for legislation that actually addresses the issue and commit to eradicating forced labour and child labour. Having the appearance under this bill to be doing something is not good enough.

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HANSARD: Foreign Interference and Alleged Reputational Harm to Members of Parliament

Outside this chamber, just yesterday, there were individuals shouting, questioning and jeering about who the traitors may be. Members of Parliament had to walk past these individuals on the members' way to the House to do their work. I believe we must find a way to disclose which MPs are knowingly, intentionally, wittingly or semi-wittingly engaging with foreign states or their proxies to undermine Canada's democratic processes and institutions. I believe this can be done in a way that does not compromise national security.

If there are no consequences for MPs who knowingly help foreign governments act against Canadian interests, we will continue to be an easy target. This will further erode the trust and faith Canadians have in our democratic processes. If allowed to continue, it will further impugn the integrity of the House. Revealing any member of Parliament, former or present, who is a willing participant in foreign interference activities would have the effect of deterring this kind of behaviour. Moreover, it would send a clear message to those foreign states that this cannot continue and that they will not be able to continue to use parliamentarians in this way. This will further reassure the public of the integrity of the House.

I strongly believe that the House should refer the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee. A possible way to deal with the issue would be for committee members to undergo the necessary security screening to examine the unredacted report and look into the allegations about parliamentarians who were “‘witting or semi-witting’ participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in our politics.” We could allow the named parliamentarians to be informed and to come before the committee as witnesses; we could then explore options on how to disclose the named parliamentarians without compromising national security or police investigations of the matter.

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