Canada needs a comprehensive approach to human rights due diligence: Investors and Bill S-211

Canada may get its own modern slavery disclosure regime as a private member’s bill goes for a third and final reading with the House of Commons in February 2023.

The new law, mirroring modern slavery laws in jurisdictions like the UK and Australia, will require government entities and certain companies operating in Canada to report annually on their policies, due diligence processes, and measures taken to remediate forced labour or child labour, as well as how they assess the effectiveness of these measures in business and supply chains.

As I testified to both the Senate and the House committees, investors need disclosure from companies that is comprehensive, timely, and comparable. The new law will make corporate reports on forced and child labour risks available to us in a government-run database, and investors can use that information to help with due diligence on these egregious human rights abuses.

However, as a leading advocate in engaging companies on human rights in global supply chains, SHARE has seen too many examples of companies that meet minimum reporting requirements but miss the mark in terms of providing effective redress for those whose rights have been abrogated.

For years, SHARE has lobbied for the Government of Canada to introduce a legal requirement for companies to not only report on forced and child labour risks, but to also implement comprehensive human rights due diligence programs based on guidelines from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

We’ve worked with a diverse range of investors—and a multi-sectoral group of companies and associations—that have all agreed that a more comprehensive approach would be better aligned with actual corporate practice and emerging legal standards.

In my appearances before Parliament, I urged them to expand the scope of the bill accordingly. By limiting the law to forced and child labour alone, many other egregious human rights abuses and terrible labour practices may still fly under the radar.

SHARE, as well as committee members like New Democrat MP, Heather McPherson, recommended specific amendments to the bill that would have strengthened the requirements, expanded the scope, and subjected it to earlier legislative review to keep pace with the constantly changing legal environment internationally. In the end, none of those proposed changes were adopted and the original bill will go back to the House of Commons for a final vote.

Where does that leave us? As a dedicated convenor of engagements on these issues with global corporations, we can and will make use of what is available to us. If this law is passed, we will have more information to work with than is currently available.

We will continue to work with colleagues in government to develop regulatory requirements, policies and guidance that support effective due diligence on the broad spectrum of human rights.

Investors will expect, and will demand, the most comprehensive and meaningful action from the companies they own, not the bare minimum required under the law.

Despite the lost opportunity to do more in this specific bill, we have to thank those Senators, Members of Parliament, and government officials that have worked and continue to work to fight for human rights and corporate accountability, step by step.

Kevin Thomas
Written By:

Kevin Thomas

Kevin Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer of the Shareholder Association for Research and Education. Kevin joined SHARE in 2013 as a Senior Analyst on social issues and became Executive Director in 2018.

More By This Author