Canada does not currently have modern slavery legislation in force prohibiting the importation into Canada goods produced by forced or child labour unlike many of its major trading partners such as Australia and the UK.
New legislation was introduced this year in the Senate in an attempt to affirm Canada’s international commitment to fight against modern slavery.
Bill S-216 – known as An Act to enact the Modern Slavery Act and to amend the Customs Tariff (the “Act”) – was introduced by Senator Julie Miville-Dechene. Bill S-216 is an updated version of previous bills tabled in 2018 (Bill C-423) and earlier in 2020 (Bill S-211) that were never enacted. Similar to its predecessors, Bill S-216 introduces reporting requirements and import controls to ensure that supply chains of Canadian companies are free of forced labour and child labour.
The Bill is modeled after modern slavery disclosure legislation in other jurisdictions such as the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. If passed, the Bill would impose supply chain reporting obligations on companies subject to the Act, as well as a prohibition on the importation of goods manufactured or produced by forced labour or child labour.
Bill S-216, as presently drafted, applies to any entity that: produces or sells goods in Canada or elsewhere; imports into Canada goods produced outside Canada; or controls an entity engaged in any of the foregoing activities.
Under the proposed Act, covered entities would be required to file an annual report on the measures taken to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used at any step of the production of goods. Affected entities would be obliged to report on:
- its structure and the goods that it produces in Canada or elsewhere or that it imports into Canada;
- its policies in relation to forced labour and child labour;
- its activities that carry a risk of forced or child labour being used and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
- any measures taken to remediate any forced labour or child labour; and
- the training provided to employees on forced labour and child labour.
The report would need to be accessible to the public and available on the entity’s website.
The proposed legislation would also allow for a ban on goods manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour or child labour. The Bill uses the International Labour Organization definition of forced labour as labour or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of their safety or involuntarily. Child labour is defined as labour or service by a person under the age of 18 years under circumstances that are contrary to Canadian laws.
If enacted, those who fail to comply with the reporting requirements under this legislation may be guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine of up to $250,000. Directors, officers, or agents may also be held personally liable for directing, authorizing, or acquiescing in violations of the Act.
We will keep Canadian employers updated on development and possible impacts to Canadian business.
Mathews Dinsdale is available to assist employers to determine the potential impact of the Bill to their businesses, please contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer.