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By Kevin Thomas
This week I was in Ottawa, so I took the opportunity to sit in on hearings being convened by the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights to look at the question of child and forced labour in global supply chains. The subcommittee has held five sessions so far and will be wrapping up hearings next week.
The members and witnesses have been debating appropriate measures to address the scourge of forced and child labour, especially where it is used to produce goods and services that make their way into the Canadian market. They’ve been especially interested in the use of legislation like the UK Modern Slavery Act and similar legislation in other Canadian trading partners to encourage corporate responsibility for due diligence on human rights in their own supply chains.
That’s an idea whose time has come. It’s just a question of getting it right, so that companies are being held to similar standards in the multiple jurisdictions in which they operate, and so that their investors can use the information being produced under the legislation to adequately manage their own risks and make sound investment decisions.
To help in that process, SHARE held a roundtable with Canadian companies in early December to discuss opportunities for businesses to collaborate on solutions to forced labour, and to hear from experts from the International Labour Organization and legal experts with experience in the area. The roundtable, co-sponsored by Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP and the International Commission of Jurists Canada, brought together representatives from mining, airlines, retail, construction, engineering, telecommunications and financial services companies for a productive discussion on best practices and the legal frameworks for due diligence.
We hope that the views and experience of businesses and investors that are already leading on this issue will inform a process in Parliament to arrive at legislation that assists companies and investors in establishing effective due diligence, without adding layers of bureaucracy or tick-the-box approaches to compliance. We think it can be done, if the will is there.
To that end we are recommending that the government establish a multi-stakeholder task force, including investors and companies, to arrive at a model for due diligence legislation that works in the Canadian context. One that strengthens the efforts of leading companies and investors, and brings any less scrupulous competitors into the light along with them.