Designed to Fail


Canada’s Act to Fight Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Global Supply Chains

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Leanne Melnyk

Head of Impact and Partnerships, Quizrr

As a Canadian, I was excited to read that my country will soon join the growing list of countries with binding Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) legislation. After watching progress in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and others, I was perplexed why Canada – the one who touts itself as the “strong voice for the protection of human rights” wasn’t holding our companies to account for abuses in their supply chains. 

What kind of abuses you may ask? Here are two examples of many: 

·       In 2022, Public Services and Procurement Canada terminated two supply contracts worth $222M with Supermax Healthcare Canada following allegations that the gloves it manufactured in Malaysia for use by Canadian health care workers were made with forced labour. Earlier the US Customs Border Patrol had investigated Supermax and its subsidiaries identifying 10 of the 11 forced labour indicators.

·       On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed killing 1,130 people and seriously injuring 2,520 others. Two of the clothing-manufacturing companies caught up in the collapse were under contract to supply the Canadian giant Loblaws. In 2019, victims of the tragedy tried to sue Loblaws in Canadian courts, but the Supreme Court concluded the company was not liable since it had “no control over the circumstances that were dangerous, and had no control over the employers or employees or other occupants of Rana Plaza” – a position which is directly contrary to internationally recognized standards around duty of conduct on due diligence. 

Canada’s Current State of Play 

Sure – Canada has made some efforts to show it’s not a laggard in the area of business and human rights and at least on paper – the efforts look credible. In 2019, the Government appointed a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad in the oil and gas, mining and garment sectors; and in 2020, Canada amended its Customs Tariff to ban imports of goods produced by forced labour in line with requirements in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement.

I was perplexed why Canada – the one who touts itself as the “strong voice for the protection of human rights” wasn’t holding our companies to account for abuses in their supply chains. 

Leanne Melnyk

Head of Impact and Partnerships, Quizrr

Nearly four years later however, the actual results look less impressive. CORE has been critiqued for questions over its independence and structural inefficiencies. The CORE has an investigative mandate and can make remedial recommendations to private companies, but its determinations are otherwise non-binding (Official reports of the Legislative Assembly and Parliamentary Committees and broadcasts Assembly and Committees proceedings). The organization sits within Global Affairs Canada and in 2021-22, there were only five complaints submitted – of which only one was deemed “admissible” and later referred to another party (Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability “Top Three Reasons Why Bill S-211 Misses the Mark” (2021) link). Similarly, enforcement of the import ban has been lopsided with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, stopping a total of 3,237 shipments over suspicions of forced labor, compared to Canada’s stopping of one shipment, which it later released it after a challenge from the importer (Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act, Final Report (2019) link).

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