Supply chain legislation: A first step in fighting child labour in Canada

Aug 11, 2023
By Negin Amini, World Vision Canada Youth Advocate

For the past 10 years, the World Vision Canada team has been dedicating their time to help end the worst forms of child labour, which includes dangerous and degrading work for children. The protracted nature of child labour is getting worse daily due to climate change, natural disasters, rising conflicts, COVID-19,  recent inflation and most importantly, the delay in implementing laws to protect children's rights and the lives behind the Canadian goods and services.
More than 158,000 Canadians have signed World Vision Canada’s petition to demand supply chain transparency legislation.
In 2021, the Government of Canada pledged to conduct a risk assessment of federal procurement supply chains by means of identifying probable goods that have been made or produced through child labour. However, much more needed to be done to call for greater transparency in global supply chains. With multiple countries such as Australia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany taking legislative action against child labour, it was time for Canada to establish transparent laws to address child and forced labour worldwide.
On May 3, 2023, Bill S-211, the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act, was passed— a historic moment for Canadians who stood up against forced labour and demanded greater transparency in supply chains. The Bill was introduced by Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne in the Senate and MP John McKay in the House of Commons to enact the fight against forced labour and child labour in supply chains and amend customs tariffs.
  Even though passing Bill S-211 was a significant breakthrough in the fight against child labour in Canada, mandatory reporting by companies remains an insufficient approach without the government's constant monitoring and follow-up on children at risk of enslavement. Rather, this bill is a long-awaited first step in the fight against child labour in Canadian business.

To understand the context of Bill S-211 better and the challenges ahead, this article will explore the significance of Bill S-211, the challenges ahead and what commitments Canada has made about laws to take further meaningful action.
  1. What is the difference between forced labour and child labour?
  2. How does Bill S-211 help hold companies accountable for child labour?
  3. What comes next in Canada's fight against child labour?
  4. What has World Vision done to fight child labour?
  5. How can I help?

1. What is the difference between forced labour and child labour?

Child labour” is a broad term that describes work that is physically, mentally, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children. This type of work prevents children from accessing proper to save their families from the vicious cycle of poverty.
The worst types of child labour include but are not limited to, children who are enslaved, have hazardous jobs, work long hours during the day or night, or work with dangerous equipment and machinery.
“Forced Labour” means all work and services provided by any person under the threat of penalty, which the worker hasn’t offered to do voluntarily. Child labour and forced labour often happens at the lower tiers of the supply chains and where the raw inputs are farmed, mined or processed; therefore, collecting information on such activities requires a more coherent approach and process.
You can find more information through World Vision’s Supply Chain Risk Report.

2. How does Bill S-211 hold companies accountable for child labour?

Bill S-211 helps hold companies accountable by forcing them to provide more transparent reports about the measures taken at any stage in the company’s production of goods or services. This would allow the citizens to make an informed and ethical decision about the product. Moreover, the companies are required to adhere to procedures that will accurately inform the government about the parts of its activities and supply chains that carry a risk of forced labour or child labour being used.

Senator Miville-Dechêne and MP McKay stand together with George Furey, holding the newly passed bill.
Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne (left) and MP John McKay (right) championed Bill S-211, seeing the bill from its inception all the way to royal assent, the last step before it comes into law. Photo: Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, via Twitter

These requirements apply to all Canadian federal government institutions and departments, crown corporations and their wholly owned subsidiaries and any other private sector “entity” that is
  1. Producing, selling or distributing goods in Canada or elsewhere
  2. Importing into Canada goods produced outside of Canada
  3. Controlling an entity engaged in any activity described in (A) or (B) with control is defined broadly as any direct or indirect control or common control “in any manner.”
Starting in 2024, any large business—referred to as an “entity” or “entities” in the bill—to which Bill S-211 applies must submit an annual report to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness by May 31 each year. The report includes the steps taken to prevent and reduce the risk of forced child labour. The supplementary information also provides information on the following:
  • Structure, activities and supply chains
  • Policies and due diligence processes in relation to forced and child labour
  • Parts of the business and supply chain that carry a risk of forced or child labour being used and steps taken to assess and manage the risks
  • Measures taken to remediate any forced labour or child labour
  • Measurements taken to remediate the loss of income to the most vulnerable families that result from any measure taken to eliminate the use of forced labour or child labour
  • Training provided to the employees on child labour
  • How each entity assesses its effectiveness in ensuring that forced and child labour are not being used in its business and supply chains

3. What comes next in Canada's fight against child labour?

While Bill S-211 allows consumers to make an ethical decision about the product they purchase, it doesn’t necessarily establish clear criteria about the measurements taken on addressing forced labour.
World Vision Canada continues to advocate for a due diligence law in Canada, like what is currently in place in countries like Germany and France. The European Union is set to finalize their own due diligence regime that would span across all 26 of its member states. Due diligence, preventing and mitigating child and forced labour, must be Canada’s end goal too—it is not only just morally imperative, but key to furthering ties with key trade allies who require due diligence..
We are encouraged by the government’s Budget 2023 announcement indicating more legislation will be introduced by Canada’s Labour Minister by the end of 2024. 

Christoph reaches up to pick a raw vanilla bean pod from a tree.In Uganda, Christoph, 15, splits his time between picking vanilla beans for work and going to classes. He has yet to reach secondary school because he spends so much time in labour. Delayed education is a massive consequence of child labour.

Bill S-211 has been a catalyst for meaningful progress on this issue. It is not often that the passage of one bill leads the government to commit to even more in the short-term. 
We call on all Parliamentarians to hold the government to its promises on this file, and to work together to ensure more legislation passes before the next election; Bill S-211 is an important step but cannot be the end. 


4. What has World Vision Canada done to address child labour?

World Vision Canada's fight against child labour starts with the “No Child For Sale Campaign, ” where we advocated for children who were pushed, forced or trafficked to dirty, degrading and dangerous jobs. Furthermore, we advocated for national child labour laws and their re-enforcement, such as Bill-S-211, and we created accesible resources to help consumers make informed decisions about their products.

Child labour is a symptom of conflict, poverty and hunger. Alongside advocacy work for meaningful national policy changes, World Vision also works to alleviate the conditions under which child labour happens in vulnerable communities.
This can mean providing educational support in fragile context areas or offering support for parents to improve their income and food security, thereby reducing the chance of children getting involved with child labour, hindering their accessibility and devotion to education.
Find out more about the No Child For Sale campaign.  

5. How can I help?

Communicate with your local Member of Parliament to support more due diligence legislation. You can find your MP online and contact via email or postal mail.
Spread the word by using social media to educate others about child/forced labour and actions we can take to help eliminate child labour. Starting in 2024, you can also check the website of different companies to observe the amount of child labour involved in the produced Canadian goods or products and make an informed decision. You can find more information about the risky goods here.
Bill S-211 is a reflection of fighting for children's rights for more than 10 years, and this is just the beginning of our journey. After all, no Canadian wants to unintentionally contribute to the vicious cycle of child labour every time they buy chocolate for their loved ones on Valentine's, do their grocery shopping or buy their favourite clothes. It is our right to know and our right to decide ethically and responsibly!
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