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Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Bill

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill S-211, short titled “Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act.”

I would like to thank Senator Miville-Dechêne for reintroducing this important human rights bill. I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the members of the All Party Parliamentary Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

This bill lifts the veil on the prevalence of modern slavery around the world, impacting at least 90 million children and adults.

Canada is far behind in terms of forced labour legislation. If we are to uphold our standing as a champion of human rights, we must keep pace with countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which have already passed legislation requiring their companies to investigate and report on the risk of forced labour in their supply chains.

With this bill, we would uphold Canada’s international commitment to contribute to the fight against forced and child labour.

Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain, which encompasses many forms of exploitation, such as human trafficking, descent-based slavery, forced and early marriage, as well as forced and child labour.

The latter is particularly troubling and is defined as work that is mentally, physically, socially and morally harmful to children, and it interferes with their ability to receive an education. Yet, one in four victims of modern slavery is a child.

We know the major factor in child labour is poverty, as children work for their survival and that of their family. This is part of a vicious cycle where education is seen as secondary to earning an income, which in turn prevents child workers from escaping poverty once they reach adulthood.

Of course, this bill cannot solve these root issues alone, but it can force private sector entities and government institutions to take steps to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable.

One of the key steps outlined in this bill is the requirement for large entities and government institutions to submit an annual report outlining steps taken to curtail forced or child labour; additionally, any training provided to employees on the prevention of modern slavery in any step of the production of goods produced, purchased or distributed.

Education is a vital step because many of us are too far removed from the goods we purchase and consume. Personally, I had the unique opportunity to visit the site of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. I arrived only three months after the eight-storey building collapsed, killing over 1,100 people and injuring countless individuals. I witnessed first-hand the cost of cheap fast fashion. These poorly paid workers had been forced to keep producing clothes even after police had ordered the evacuation of the building due to deep visible cracks in the walls.

It is time for Canada to implement legislation to curtail forced and child labour around the world.

As critic of the bill, I do have to point out some potential concerns that should be reviewed at committee. Some of you raised excellent questions last week. Senator Black questioned the broad definition of child labour and Senator Omidvar had concerns regarding the ramifications for children who rely on employment for survival. This is not a simple bill nor is it comprehensive in addressing forced labour.

Discussions will need to take place regarding the additional responsibilities provided to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness; the broad powers allotted to designated persons in enforcing mandates outlined in the bill; and legal considerations of holding executive members, employees and/or agents liable for any discrepancies in the annual report.

It is also important to hear from witnesses at committee to ensure that this bill is as strong as possible.

With further input, we can eliminate corruption and shine a light on forced labour through transparency. I hope you support me in sending Bill S-211 to committee so it can be thoroughly reviewed. Thank you.