Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act

An Act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act and to amend the Customs Tariff

Status

Report stage (House), as of Nov. 30, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill S-211.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment enacts the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act , which imposes an obligation on certain government institutions and private-sector entities to report on the measures taken to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used by them or in their supply chains. The Act provides for an inspection regime applicable to entities and gives the Minister the power to require an entity to provide certain information.
This enactment also amends the Customs Tariff to allow for aprohibition on the importation of goods manufactured or produced,in whole or in part, by forced labour or child labour as those terms are defined in the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act .

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 1, 2022 Passed 2nd reading of Bill S-211, An Act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act and to amend the Customs Tariff

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

moved that Bill S-211, An Act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act and to amend the Customs Tariff, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I want to thank an abundance of colleagues who have been very instrumental in getting this bill to where it is now. First and foremost I thank Senator Miville-Dechêne, who shepherded this through the Senate of Canada, and my friend and colleague, the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, who has been very helpful as well.

I also want to acknowledge other friends, who are in the chamber as we speak. I expect they are supportive of this initiative and I want to thank them. I am rather hoping that just before the end of the hour, the debate will cease and we will move to have a recorded division at the first available opportunity.

First and foremost, I want members to feel the garments they are wearing. Do we know for certain that the garments we are wearing are free of supply chain slavery? When we go home tonight and open a can of tomato paste or a seafood dish, will we be absolutely certain that there is no element of slavery in the supply chain that brought that product to us?

A lot of us take pride in trying to reduce our GHG emissions, so I, like many others, have a couple of solar panel arrays. Am I sure that the components of those solar panels, or the solar panels themselves, are free of supply chain slavery?

I ask these questions because cotton, solar panels, tomato paste and seafood products have all been traced to slave-like conditions overseas. Report after report and American customs officials indicate that these products and many others are produced by forced labour and/or child labour, and we innocent, or maybe ignorant, Canadian consumers are complicit in this noxious practice.

In 2016, it was estimated that 34 billion dollars' worth of goods sold by over 1,200 Canadian companies were infected by supply chain slavery. A World Vision survey estimates that four billion dollars' worth of food products, primarily from Mexico, including coffee, fish, tomatoes, cane sugar and cocoa, are among the most common products of slave labour.

Cotton from Xinjiang is produced by Uighur slaves. Cobalt from the Congo is mined by children, and it goes into all the electric vehicles we are hoping to produce. In Canada, agricultural workers are particularly at risk, as are hotel maintenance workers.

I could use up my entire time here listing the human rights abuses of our fellow global citizens. The assumption of this bill is that different consumption choices would be made if there was a readily available source of knowledge. Neither I nor anybody else wishes to be the unwitting supporters of slavery. As William Wilberforce, possibly the greatest parliamentarian of the British Westminster system, once said, we may choose to look the other way, but we can never say we did not know.

What is to be done? Bill S-211 is a modest proposal to bring transparency to our supply chains, and if properly implemented, it could actually make a big impact. The preamble defines the issue and cites numerous international labour conventions to which Canada is a signatory. The purpose clause imposes reporting requirements on governments and business entities in Canada.

Part 1 binds government institutions in the bill. As legislators, we could hardly expect the companies of Canada to be bound by this kind of legislation if we are not prepared to bind ourselves. Part 2 binds entities producing or selling in Canada with similar reporting obligations as governments. The business entities must either be listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange or meet two out of three criteria: $20 million in assets, $40 million in sales or 250 employees.

The next part of the legislation sets out the annual report, what it needs to say and who can sign it. We see this as a rough equivalent to a letter to the auditor. We then outline the authority of the Minister of Public Safety, including his or her right to examine and seize records and the ability to compel compliance.

The final section deals with offences and punishment. Some may query why the $250,000 fine is so low. The reason is that we feel that transparency and accountability is far more of a sanction. In other words, the real teeth in the bill are the abilities to name and shame. The bill would also allow for the imposition of a fine levied against the directors and not just the company.

Part 3 proposes an electronic registry that is publicly accessible, along with a report to Parliament and a five-year review thereafter. It is almost a certainty that future parliamentarians will want to improve and strengthen this bill, as we all gain some experience with it.

Finally, I want to review the journey of this bill. I, as well as other members, have been around here long enough to remember our friend Bob Nault. The journey of this bill began in his office when he introduced us to British parliamentarians who had just implemented a bill such as this in 2015, which was subsequently improved upon in 2019. The Australian Parliament passed a similar bill in 2018. France has an extremely tough bill, but it applies only to very large corporations. In 2019, the Netherlands passed a child labour due diligence act, and six months ago, Germany did much the same.

In the last election, both the Conservative and Liberal parties made platform commitments to introduce legislation to “eradicate forced labour from Canadian supply chains”. Four ministers have similar commitments in their mandate letters. In the 42nd Parliament, the foreign affairs committee submitted a report and a recommendation for such a bill.

Eighty-seven per cent of Canadians say that they want something done, and 75% of respondents from the Schulich School of Business said that a transparency law would drive change and benefit their businesses. This is an idea whose time has come, and it may be that the Canadian public is actually way ahead of us.

I will end with what my good friend Senator Miville-Dechêne had to say as she concluded her remarks in the other place. She said, “I would say that S-211 seeks to make a modest contribution to a broader and longer-term objective”. This is, according to the senator, namely aligning our businesses “and economic activities with the imperatives of social and environmental sustainability.” She says, “Canada has made many commitments internationally, but we have yet to [translate] them in our [national] legislation.”

It is worth repeating that we are a little late. Senator Miville-Dechêne continued, “Canada is a rich, free and modern society” committed “in principle” to the defence of human rights. She says that if we are unable to act forcefully “to limit modern slavery practices in our supply chains, we...risk...losing the moral [stature] that we cherish”, and we would look like “hypocrites”. She states that does not want that.

So said my friend, Senator Miville-Dechêne, and I second her sentiments.

I am looking forward to questions, and I am also looking forward to an early referral of this bill to the foreign affairs committee. As I said, I look forward to what colleagues might say. I am thankful for their time and attention.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his hard work on the file. Also, I would like to recognize the all-party parliamentary group that has worked together on these issues as well as, of course, Senator Miville-Dechêne, who put the bill forward in the other place. Conservatives are supportive of Bill S-211. We are also supportive of being able to move quickly on the bill in light of the urgency on the issue.

There is one notable difference between Bill S-211 and a previous version, which is that the bill before us would impose obligations on government entities with respect to preventing forced labour in their supply chains, as well as on businesses. From the perspective of the Conservative Party, the inclusion of that obligation on government is very important. We should not be asking the private sector to do things in this regard if the government itself is not prepared to step up to do.

I wonder if the member could speak to the importance of government, in its own procurement, to step up as well.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, first of all, with respect to the all-party group, I too would like to acknowledge the willingness of many colleagues from the Conservative Party and the Bloc, and our friends in the NDP and the Liberal Party, to push forward a couple of important initiatives, with this being one of them. It has been quite effective in its advocacy.

Second, with respect to the inclusion of governments, we have gone through a period of time in the last two or three years when we may have sourced goods which we, in other instances, may not or would not have sourced. They were from dubious sources, shall we say. As I said in my speech, and as my hon. colleague repeated, we can hardly expect the public of Canada or corporate Canada to adhere to standards that we are not prepared to impose upon ourselves. We have, as a government, not just this government, but all governments, an ability to source and examine supply chains that many corporations do not. Therefore, I would like to hope that we as governments become leaders in this field rather than followers.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech. I would like to highlight the great work he does every day on defending international human rights. I sincerely congratulate him. I have worked on files with him, and I am pleased that he spoke on this matter today.

Does he believe that Bill S-211 solves everything? He will probably answer that it does not.

Does he believe that Canada must pass real legislation on corporate due diligence? Does he agree that this is not part of Canadian law at present?

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, may I simply say that this is a modest proposal. It is a first step. I do not want perfection to be the enemy of the good. That is why I am soliciting support at this stage. I would anticipate that future parliaments will have an initiative that may be far more extensive than this, perhaps even from my honourable friend, but I would rather take a few steps at this point and anticipate that other steps will be taken at a future date.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to echo some of my colleagues in this place in thanking the member for bringing forward this legislation and to thank him for the work he has done protecting human rights around the world. I have been a fan of his work since before I was elected.

I do have some concerns, though, in that we have heard that the United States has been able to stop goods made with slave labour or potential forced labour. Over 14,000 shipments have been stopped, yet in Canada, that is not the case. There has, in fact, only been one case. We have been told that the CBSA has no capacity to do that, so I am wondering how the member anticipates getting over that particular hurdle.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, in this particular instance, this bill would only aid the Canadian authorities and hopefully help them recognize slave-based product coming into Canada. The member's analysis is perfectly correct. The Americans seize far more goods than we do. Because of that, they probably have a better feel for the entire product lines that are coming into Canada. I am rather hoping that this bill pushes that analysis and pushes the Canadian authorities to seize more product.

However, I understand, and this bill does not deal with this, that there are differences. The American standard to seize is lower than the Canadian standard to seize. The analogy I would draw is the difference between the criminal standard of proof that is beyond reasonable doubt versus that which is on the balance of probabilities. I think that is actually the core problem with our own legislation. Again, I would encourage my hon. colleague and friend, whom I also admire for her work, to bring forth a private member's bill that might suggest something along those lines.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I always find it a little bit disorienting when a love-in emerges in the House of Commons.

I want to say that I am in support of this legislation. I think it is important that we try to allow debate to collapse today so that the bill can move forward to committee and we can begin the work of studying it at committee and proposing constructive amendments. Our party believes that stronger action is required to address the issue of supply chain slavery, the issue of it happening in the private sector and issues in government procurement.

The member quite ably spoke to the fact that many parties have spoken about this. I think it has also been acknowledged that this bill is not going to solve every problem. It is an important step. Let us work to pass the bill and strengthen it. Then let us also think about other things that may be required to move this work forward.

I have a couple of other points about the issue of supply chain slavery that I want to put on the record.

I think the points on the capacity of other countries and the need for strengthened international co-operation in combatting these issues are very important. We are one country. We are trying to do a similar thing that other like-minded countries are trying to do, which is address issues of forced labour. Why can we not collaborate more in identifying where the problems are and in sharing information to strengthen our enforcement?

I will mention as well that in the United States, the House has passed the uyghur forced labor prevention act, which designates the East Turkestan region as a place where we know there is a great deal of forced labour happening. It says that in the case of that region, there is a reverse onus: It is presumed that slave labour is involved unless proven otherwise, because there is such a significant problem in that place. I would support that kind of measure and/or a mechanism of regional designation allowing a government of the day to say that a particular country or region is a place where there is a huge problem, so we need to treat products coming out of this region in a different way. That is not in the bill, but I think the process of regional designation is something we should explore as a Parliament.

One of the proposals put forward by the business community in this area is for the government to create an entities list to identify suppliers that are known to be problematic. I think that would be very helpful. Some small businesses would fall below the threshold in this legislation, and there are obviously challenges in trying to identify where the problems are in supply chains. If the government could work on an entities list to support the work that is required, that would be helpful as well.

In general, I look forward to the discussion at committee. This is important legislation. I think it moves the ball forward, and we need to continue the conversation to do all we can to advance justice and human rights. I look forward to working with colleagues and all parties to try to do that.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the senators and members who have gotten involved, directly or indirectly, in tackling the issue of human trafficking, slavery and forced labour in Canada and Quebec and elsewhere in the world. I sincerely thank Senator Miville‑Dechêne, in particular, for her commitment. I do not think my colleagues will hear me thanking senators in the House very often. I am, however, capable of doing so, because what we are talking about today is so important.

The bill we are debating sets out what we need to do to make our supply chains more ethical and to rid them of the scourge of forced labour and child labour. Not many members in the House had to listen to testimony from Uighurs who fled China. I participated in the study conducted by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. I had to look into the eyes of these victims who lived under a totalitarian regime. I struggled to hold back tears as they described the abuse they suffered at the hands of those tormenting and exploiting them in Xinjiang. I was speechless as I listened to their stories. Then, I was forced to tell them that Canada is doing nothing to deter their tormentors and exploiters. The most optimistic among us would say that we are not doing much, but the truth is that we are doing nothing.

Less than a week ago, I tabled a motion about recognizing the genocide being perpetrated by the People's Republic of China against the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkestan. Although no one could claim to be unaware of the situation, my motion was rejected by many Liberals, who refused to even let me read it. The status quo is a powerful thing. That is why this bill is so necessary. Even if it is incomplete, as my colleague said earlier, it is a first step that must be taken.

Very early on, as children, we are taught that making a purchase is not a trivial act. It is a decision. It comes with significant power: the power to choose. However, in order to choose, we need to be fully informed and make sure that we compare the available options. That is why, when we choose between two items, we want to know where they come from, how much they cost. When we choose between two foods, we want to know how much they weigh, how many calories they have. For some things, however, it is not that simple.

This might seem obvious. We know that anything made in Canada is made by paid workers, not forced labour. Unfortunately, not everything sold in Canada comes with that certainty. Even though we live in a modern state with progressive labour laws and an aversion to all forms of slavery, believe it or not, a consumer cannot take it for granted that a given sweater or pair of gloves was not made by a person forced to work, not even here.

Given everything we know about China and similar regimes, it is high time we made sure that no product tainted by forced labour shows up on store shelves in Quebec or Canada. The people who elected us to represent them expect us to at least try to make progress on this issue. Unfortunately, Canada often lags behind on these issues. Let me share one example. While the Americans block entire containers of goods and demand proof that they are not the product of forced labour, we wait for the phone to ring. We wait for a call from border services saying that they have evidence of forced labour for a given container from Xinjiang. That is when it is seized. How ridiculous.

While Parliament knows that a genocide is happening in Xinjiang and has acknowledged it, Ottawa waits for a phone call. While members of the House, including myself, have heard disturbing testimony about forced labour, Ottawa waits for a phone call. While international experts and our neighbours act consistently in the face of well-documented facts, Ottawa waits for a phone call.

Worse still, I can say that a shortage of telephone operators is not the problem. Last fall, the Canada Border Services Agency seized, for the first and only time, a shipment of clothing produced using forced labour. No big alarm bells are ringing. Meanwhile, the United States has intercepted over 1,400 shipments. If that is not proof of the inefficiency of the Canadian system and the need to improve it, I do not know what is.

The problem does not start at the border; it starts with our companies. Consider for example the genocide in China. Canadian companies are among the top five investors in the Xinjiang region. Canadian companies are not only failing to control goods from forced labour, they are actually encouraging and participating in modern slavery. The problem is obviously not limited to China, but this is a clear example. The truth is that Quebeckers and Canadians are unaware of the extent to which successive federal governments have allowed the problem to escalate, as though supply chains built on forced labour did not affect us. Guess what? They do affect us.

For 2020 alone, World Vision estimates that 7% of goods imported to Canada were produced by child labour or forced labour.

If we believe the actions that have been taken to date, or rather, the one action that has been taken to date, Quebeckers and Canadians ought to be reassured, but that is not at all the case.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill for the simple reason that it will lead to greater transparency on the measures companies are taking or not taking to combat the use of forced labour, whether in Canada or abroad.

Bill S‑211 would create an inspection regime and confer additional powers on the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, including the power to require an entity to provide certain information about its application of the legislation. Each year, the minister will also have to table in each House of Parliament a report on the measures taken to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour is used.

All of that is good. This is progress, but obviously it is not enough. We have to do what the Americans are doing and reverse the burden of proof if we want to discourage forced labour. We also have to coordinate with our other allies on several other related issues. What are we currently doing about the ineffectiveness of border services, about businesses that are underpaying their staff, and about those corrupting local authorities? We are doing nothing. It is unavoidable: The House will have to take an overall look at corporate due diligence.

Bill S‑211 is a step in the right direction, but only as we wait for the rest of Canada's laws to be given more teeth. If anyone in the House believes that we need do no more than what is in this bill, I would advise them to speak to the Uighurs or any other peoples who are victims of exploitation. I would advise them to go to speak to activists fighting western mining companies that abuse their power to violate human rights, usually under the Canadian flag. I would advise them to speak to the people at the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, which does an outstanding job of informing elected representatives and citizens.

I hope that in their interventions, my hon. colleagues will not forget that voting for Bill S‑211 is not a sign of leadership, but just the bare minimum they must do to be able to look in the mirror. I know that I have mentioned this dozens of times, but when I get up in the morning, the first thing I see is a little note that says: “Who do you work for?” I work for the people who gave me a mandate to represent their values and their interests to the best of my abilities.

Quebeckers believe in fairness. As kids, they learn that they should not do to others what they would not want done to themselves. They know that it is important to surround themselves with people who respect each individual's human rights. They want their elected officials to walk the talk, to be consistent and to fight for what is right.

Frankly, our public policies fall short of what we project on the international stage. This bill brings us closer to that level, but it is hardly worth bragging about. It is not as binding as the due diligence laws that already exist or are being debated in European parliaments. This bill is the bare minimum, as I was saying, and we will have to move in the same direction as the Europeans and pass human rights due diligence laws. Requiring accountability is a start.

We will soon have to enforce real, harsh requirements to change bad practices. By tolerating the commission of, or even participation in, human rights violations of any kind, we are complicit in actions that are against the law in Canada. This would also provide a solution to the limitations of import controls, which can no longer be ignored, and would prevent consumers from purchasing products manufactured through modern-day slavery.

I urge our hon. colleagues to support the demands of 150 civil society organizations from around the world, which have published model due diligence legislation. Much of the work has already been done. Now we just have to rise to the occasion. We need to act, we need to be effective and, above all, we need to be fair.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, again, I would like to thank the member for bringing this important legislation forward. I have listened to my colleagues in the House today, and I am struck by the fact that so many of us are working so hard on human rights legislation and trying to move further, trying to do more and trying to make things happen faster for people around the world who are suffering injustice; particularly injustice that is happening at the hands of Canadian companies.

I feel hope when I see that there are members from all parties who are working on this. I feel encouraged by the words I have heard from my colleagues. However, I do want to say that as a member of the opposition, my role is to continue to push and to continue to ask the government to do more. While I will be supporting this legislation, when it goes to the foreign affairs committee I will be proposing many recommendations and amendments, because while I am happy that this legislation is coming forward and it is timely and necessary, in typical NDP fashion, I do not think that this legislation goes far enough.

Around 11% of the world's child population, 168 million children between the ages of five and 17, are forced to work or denied the opportunity to go to school. According to Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, child labour should be protected from economic exploitation and any harmful work. Furthermore, the article declares that “state parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation” of restrictions.

We know, for example, that research conducted in 2016 found that over 1,200 companies operating in Canada at the time were importing goods that were at high risk of being produced by a child or through forced labour. The majority of these companies disclosed very little, if any, information on the policies, practices and processes they had in place to address these rules.

As parliamentarians, we need to think about what we would do to make sure that these people are protected, and we have an obligation to ensure that Canadian companies are held to account. We know that Canadians treasure our reputation as human rights defenders. We treasure our reputation as playing a role in the world where we recognize human rights: we call them out and we stand for them. Unfortunately, that has not been the reality in many parts of the world for some time. I am, as I said, encouraged that we are coming back to a place where we are looking at some of these issues.

Bill S-211 is a starting point. I think that has been said in the House already, and I will repeat that. It is a starting point. It means that the federal government can lead companies to improve and expand capacity to address supply chain risks as corporate governance standards are increased over time. However, an effective bill to address forced labour and other human rights abuses would require companies to prevent harm from happening, and not just file an annual report. It would require companies to change their behaviour and do due diligence, and not just report it. It would give victims of abuse access to remedy, and not just let the companies continue business as usual.

As it stands now, Bill S-211 needs to be revised so that it actually can help prevent forced and child labour rather than simply act as a diversion. Members may think that I am speaking cynically. I have to say that I feel that my cynicism is somewhat justified. Prior to being elected in the House, I worked in civil society. I worked very hard on human rights for people around the world who suffered at the hands of Canadian mining companies.

I have watched the Conservative government, and I have watched the Liberal government put in place legislation to supposedly help protect indigenous groups, women and those who are marginalized from the impacts of bad corporate actors that are predominantly, as I said, in mining and textiles.

Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals did a good job of that. Neither of those governments put in place an ombudsperson who could do the job. The talk was there and the words were there, particularly from our current government, but none of the action was there.

I brought forward a piece of private member's legislation that I certainly hope people in this House would support. It would ask that the CORE ombudsperson have the ability to compel testimony.

This legislation, and I know it is a beginning step, is weaker than the NPD's proposed legislation on human rights and corporate responsibility. My colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, brought forward Bill C-262. My bill is Bill C-263. These bills are what is truly required if Canada is going to walk the talk on human rights. Mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, as proposed in Bill C-262, is the global best practice. It takes what we have learned from France, Germany and Norway, what is now being proposed in the European Union and what ought to be Canada's stated end goal.

As I said, I am going to bring forward amendments, but I have some concerns about the implementation. The member from the government mentioned earlier that there is work being done because there are things in ministers' mandate letters. Unfortunately, none of that work has happened.

Every day, there is genocide happening against the Uighur people. We have not acted on that in this place. Those mandate letter commitments have not been followed through on. Every day, we talk about it in the House, express outrage and send thoughts and prayers, but when it actually comes down to doing the work to stop the products made with slave labour, we have not done that at the government level yet. The mandate letters have not been fulfilled.

As I said, Canadians so strongly believe in the need for human rights legislation. They so strongly believe in the importance of protecting human rights. Of course we are happy to see this first step. Of course this is an important piece for us. New Democrats have always called for the end of child labour and forced labour. Of course we want to ensure that products imported into Canada are not produced with forced or child labour. Of course we want to make sure that companies are reporting on the measures they are taking to prevent and reduce risk.

We have worked long on that file, as New Democrats. As I said earlier, we proposed strong legislation. Members from the New Democratic Party have stood in this place and brought forward ideas and legislation. They have pushed to have the CORE ombudsperson. They have pushed to have some of these things done in a more sustainable and more effective way.

I will be working with CNCA, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability. I will be working with civil society. I will be working with a number of different groups that focus on corporate accountability, and I will be bringing forward the amendments they are proposing to strengthen this legislation and to make sure that what we actually pass, what we actually bring forward, will do the job that needs to be done.

If we are given the tools in this place to hold the government to account, if we are given the tools to hold business and Canadian companies to account, we can actually make a difference. We can actually protect people around the world. We have that obligation. We are running out of time.

While I thank the member for bringing this forward, this bill is not complete. I look forward to working with him and many others to make sure that this is a much more complete bill.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to speak to Bill S-211 and be part of this in-person and virtual love-in, although I have to say that my good colleagues, and they are good colleagues, from the NDP and the Bloc have been a bit stingy with giving us their love.

As some in the House will know, I forwarded a similar bill to this a few months ago. As luck would have it, this bill by Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne rapidly worked its way through the Senate. It quickly became apparent that the best way to get the legislation passed was to support this bill.

I do not think it really matters whether the bill originated in the Senate or in the House. Either way, I am happy to support the senator and my fine colleague for Scarborough—Guildwood, who is really the father of this legislation. I am more like the second cousin, twice removed.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:55 p.m.
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An hon. member

The grandfather.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 6:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

The grandfather. I thank the member for that comment.

This bill is obviously about trying to ensure that companies’ supply chains are void of forced labour or child labour. I do not think it is at all surprising that we need such laws given the nature of capitalism, given the global nature of business and given the fact that the rule of law in many countries is rather weak.

The nature of capitalism is certainly that companies want to maximize their profits. How do they do this? There are really two ways, generally. They can increase the amount they ask for a product, but in a competitive world there are limits to how far they can go with that. However, they can also decrease the cost of production.

If my company makes suits and I sew my suits here in Canada, I would want to ensure that each of the components that goes into making those suits is as cheap as it can be for the requisite quality that people are looking for.

That may mean that the cloth is from China, but perhaps the liner is from Indonesia. Maybe the buttons are from Mexico. This is a supply chain. Certainly, each of the companies in the supply chain has its own supply chain. For example, although the cloth may be from Shanghai, the cotton actually comes from Xinjiang province and perhaps the dye comes from Hebei province.

Again, in order to maximize profits, companies want to make sure that in each step of the supply chain, they are getting the best bang for their buck. It is in order to maximize their profits. Buying the cheapest option often means they are going to buy a product from a country where labour is cheap, but in such countries, labour standards are often poor if not non-existent. The police and judiciary may be corrupt, inefficient or just not that interested in upholding the interests of the poorest members of society.

If this is combined with unscrupulous employers, and the fact that there are often large numbers of very poor people, it creates a ripe environment for the evolution of forced labour and child labour.

What constitutes child labour is a question I am not going to go into. Forced labour can be different things. Certainly, it can be the Uighurs placed in prison or internment camps in China and forced to work in their factories. However, more common is something called debt bondage.

Debt bondage is when an employee, often from a very poor country, has to pay sometimes thousands of dollars to a third party to get a job, sometimes in a slightly wealthier country. The employee, not having any money, cannot pay back that third party, so the debt comes out of their wages. As a result, they may end up working for years, often in horrendous conditions, in order to pay back that debt.

If they do not like it, often it is tough luck. They have a debt and they have an employer who may not be averse to using violence and/or keeping their travel documents, which makes it hard to leave.

Let me say that I think the vast majority of Canadians would not support this kind of unscrupulous practice and would not knowingly buy products made by either forced labour or child labour. However, as my colleague for Scarborough—Guildwood has said, we often do not know what kind of labour practices go into the products we buy. I do not know who made my suit or who made my shoes. Furthermore, I think the reality is that a lot of companies and consumers do not really want to look too deeply into the labour practices of the companies that make the products. Herein lies the problem and the need for this law.

Let me say that it is not only the pursuit of the almighty dollar that leads to these problems. Sometimes it is government action. Forced labour may sadly be the result of coercive government action. For example, it is estimated that over a million Uighurs in Xinjiang internment camps or prisons are likely used for forced labour.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 25 million people globally are victims of forced labour, and 150 million children are victims of child labour.

Let me summarize. Many products in supply chains come from poor countries. People there, who do not make a lot of money, make those products, and in a lot of those countries either forced labour or child labour exists. The simple fact is that we often do not know which companies use these deplorable practices, which is again the reason why we need this law. The essence of this legislation is something called supply chain transparency legislation, which requires companies to publicly disclose their efforts to prevent forced labour and child labour. Not only is there a requirement to send reports to the government, but there is also a requirement to make these reports public: to put them on the companies' websites and also to include the reports as part of their annual financial statements.

Notably, there is no actual requirement to totally eliminate forced labour or child labour, but there is a very strong requirement that companies say and reveal publicly what they have done to check whether there are such practices within their supply chains, and to say what they have done to address the situation. I know some, who may no longer be here, may say that this legislation is too soft, but I would suggest that this legislation goes a far way in addressing this issue: I think consumers, shareholders and stock markets will not look very favourably upon companies that do not address this issue.

I know that I, as a Canadian, and most Canadians, would not want to either buy products from, or own shares in, a company that does these practices.

I have been talking about companies, but as has already been mentioned, this act imposes the same requirement on the government, and that is only fair. If the government wants to impose a requirement on a company in the business world, it is only fair that it imposes the same requirement upon itself.

We have heard tonight that this bill does not go far enough, and so be it. Perhaps that is true. I certainly agree that the devil is in the details, but this is a vote at second reading to get this to committee where those things can be discussed and debated.

It is certainly important to act. Certainly a lot of other countries have, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Australia and Germany. I have to say that I did not know Bob Nault was involved in this to begin with, but I am honoured to be following in his footsteps as a fellow citizen of northwestern Ontario in getting this legislation done. Good for Bob Nault.

Thankfully, child labour and forced labour are either rare or do not exist in Canada. This is mostly a problem in developing countries. All Canadians deplore such practices, and would be shocked to know that buying the things they buy may actually help to perpetuate this problem. Although we, as legislators, do not have the ability to legislate in other countries, this fine legislation by Senator Miville-Dechêne and the member for Scarborough—Guildwood will make a difference and help some of the world's most destitute people to make their lives a little better.

I would like to thank the members from all parties. I really appreciate the fact that this has such wide support. It is really nice to see.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, I too will add my voice to this debate. I want to thank Senator Miville-Dechêne for her hard work in steering this bill through the committee twice. We serve as co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. From the inception of this group back in 2018, four co-chairs, including the member for Shefford and the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, have worked together across party lines to raise awareness about modern slavery and pushed for changes to Bill S-211. We succeeded in convincing both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party to add this kind of legislation to their platforms in the last election, and I want to thank all of my colleagues for their hard work on this.

I want to acknowledge the relentless work of the member for Scarborough—Guildwood for pushing this issue in the House for a long time: Like William Wilberforce, whom he referenced in his speech, he has been introducing legislation like this for years in this place since long before some of us were elected and perhaps even before some of us were born. He never gives up on securing the freedoms of others. I want to thank him for his hard work, as well.

There are many things that divide us. Ending slavery should not be one of them, so I urge all of my hon. colleagues to support this bill.

Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2022 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

There being no further debate, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood now has the right to reply.