Canada’s forced labor laws have potential, but supply chains are hard to monitor, expert says

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Although Canada’s forced labor laws have the potential to be effective, these laws are not being enforced, says Ottawa lawyer William Pellerin.

Canada is currently reviewing its fight against forced labor abroad following a new US law that will come into force on June 21aimed at curbing the entry into the country of products originating from forced labor in other countries.

This is partly because of detailed evidence of human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in China’s Muslim region of Xinjiang, which produces one-fifth of the world’s cotton production and is a hub for pulp production. tomato and solar panels.

In 2020, Canada passed a law that makes it illegal to import goods related to forced labor. But according to The Globe and Mail, only one suspicious shipment was barred from entering the country, and that shipment was eventually released.

Although Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s Labor Minister, could not explain why there has been no enforcement, he agrees that now is the time to act.

Federal Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan assured the government’s support for the private member’s bill that would require Canadian businesses and departments to monitor supply chains in a bid to protect workers. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

There is a private member’s bill that has passed the Senate that requires companies around the world to show what they are doing to end forced labor in their supply chains.

“We’re in the process of taking this to the committee to determine how we can strengthen it,” O’Regan said. The stream guest host Nahlah Ayed.

“We’ve been on the sidelines trying to adopt best practice, but now is the time to act.”

William Pellerin is an Ottawa-based lawyer who focuses on Canadian laws surrounding the importation of forced labor. Here is part of his conversation with Ayed.

In your opinion, how effective is current Canadian law in preventing the entry of goods made by forced labour?

I think the law has the potential. The law we currently have on the books has the potential to be effective. It is difficult to apply. And that’s why, as you mentioned, there has been very little, if any, enforcement activity.

But I think it’s about accumulating evidence in the background and giving the Canada Border Services Agency the power to take those enforcement actions.

Can we drill down into the details of this? Why is this difficult to implement? Why is it difficult to apply?

Well, for one thing, the law as it stands right now, the goods will in no way be stamped or marked, of course, and that goes without saying, as being the product of forced labor.

So when the Canada Border Services Agency has the goods or you import the goods and your B3 customs form is going to label it as a T-shirt, as a hammer, as a barbecue. He is not going to label this property as a product of forced labor.

And so the question then becomes, what information does the Canada Border Services Agency have to stop these goods, detain them or otherwise? And so they rely on third parties.

And one of those third parties is ESDC, Employment Services and Development Canada, and Social Development Canada. So they rely on ESDC reports or advice from the public, and that’s not always available or the best possible evidence.

So what could really change if this new private member’s bill that we talked about comes into effect? How could that change things?

I think the private member’s bill creates an obligation for Canadian businesses, medium and large, to produce annual reports and to make those reports public.

So basically what he’s saying is you have to tell us everything you’re doing to address forced labor in your supply chains, and you have to detail your supply chains. And everyone will be able to view these reports on the company’s websites.

Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational training center in Xinjiang, China, in 2018. Reports have alleged that forced labor camps and re-education centers in the area aim to dilute Uyghur identity. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

I think that will shed a lot of light and allow consumers, and through the media, to look at what companies are doing and decide which ones they want to buy from.

It’s not a standard of care, and what I mean by that is that the new bill doesn’t tell companies how they should act or what they should do specifically. It simply says, tell us what you are doing.

Is it a flaw in your eyes?

I think that’s one approach. I don’t know if it’s a defect. I think the private member’s bill is done that way…. Ultimately, I think imposing a standard of care may be a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t necessarily work. So I think this bill is sort of the first step in the chain.

What do you think will be the impact of this new US law on goods arriving in Canada? Could we see a diversion of certain types of goods here?

The American approach is therefore very different from that of Canada. It’s really like, running fast and breaking things. And there are benefits to that. And some people think that’s the right approach under the circumstances.

The problem, of course, is that what you could be breaking are global supply chains. And we’ve already had tons and tons of law enforcement actions that have resulted in the disintegration a bit of the supply chains in the United States on this specific issue because the United States has taken action, many actions, something like 1,300 law enforcement actions before this bill even came into force.

Things will therefore become much more difficult at the border. Not to say that it is not already the case.

When you look at the border, how confident are you that Canada Border Services is actually equipped to investigate and seize goods that may be in violation of the law?

I think that’s why Canada has taken a cautious approach…to really stand apart and learn global lessons from which countries have done what, and then figure out what has worked.

And I think Canada is now coming off the sidelines and ready to act with them.

What are the holes to plug right now? What do you want the Canadian government to do to combat the entry of forced labor goods into this country?

I think at the end of the day nobody wants forced labor in their supply chain. Nobody agrees with that. I regularly speak with companies trying to figure this out.

I think the pressure is definitely on companies to be diligent, to understand their supply chain, to follow through, to get along, as much as they can, with their suppliers and in their contracts and carry out risk audits as much as possible.

Written by Philippe Drost. Produced by Joana Draghici and Camilla Bains. Questions and answers edited for length and clarity.

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