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OTTAWA — Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan says the Liberal government is considering legislation to force Canadian companies to ensure they don’t use forced labor or exploit children in the workplace. foreign.

In an interview, Mr O’Regan said he was preparing a “comprehensive” bill that would require Canadian companies and departments to review supply chains in a bid to protect workers.

There is broad support in Parliament, including among Liberal and New Democrat MPs, for such legislation, he said.

The bill would require Canadian companies to exercise due diligence to ensure that none of their products or components are made in sweatshops that employ children or force people to work excessive hours for pay. derisory.

Mr O’Regan said the issue was an ‘urgent’ one and he was looking at how to frame the legislation most effectively.

“We are looking at two things: there should be transparency requirements for companies to report on supply chains. The other is to demand more due diligence, to demand that they verify.”

The Minister is looking closely at the texts of four private members’ bills currently before Parliament with similar objectives. They include a bill originally introduced by Liberal MP John McKay, which is now introduced by his colleague Marcus Powlowski.

The NDP has introduced two similar bills, and a private member’s bill by Senator Julie Miville-Dechene against forced labor is currently progressing through Parliament.

Mr O’Regan said he had not decided to introduce a stand-alone government bill or adapt any of the existing efforts.

“We have four private member’s bills. It’s spoiled for choice, he said. So we have to take a close look at them.”

Mr. McKay indicated that he would be open to the government adopting or modifying the text of his bill.

Mr O’Regan said all parties support legislation to clean up supply chains.

“Members of the House are seized of the matter and I am very happy about that,” he added. “It’s something our caucus is really interested in.”

The proposed law, which follows government consultation, would ensure that Canadian companies operating abroad watch how their goods are produced and do not contribute to human rights abuses.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Mr. O’Regan to take the lead after appointing him Minister of Labor after the last election.

A report by the House of Commons International Human Rights Subcommittee called on the government to urge companies to carefully monitor their supply chains for the use of child labor and forced labour.

The report says that in 2016, 4.3 million children were involved in forced labor, a figure the International Labor Organization called an underestimate.

The committee’s report noted that child labor most often occurs at the lowest levels of the supply chain, out of sight of buyers, inspectors and consumers. In South and Southeast Asia, children make clothes, fish and process seafood.

The report found that child labor interferes with their education and can involve working in hazardous conditions, including with toxic substances or in extreme temperatures.

It can also include confinement to construction sites and indentured labour, under which entire families are forced to work to pay off their debts.

Rocio Domingo Ramos, head of business and human rights policy and research at Anti-Slavery International, said Canada lags behind countries like Britain, France, Germany and Norway, which have already passed laws requiring companies to ensure their products are not made using forced labor.

The group has seen the emergence of laws that would not only prevent exploitation, but “essentially, allow victims of these abuses access to justice,” she said.

In 2020, the Canadian government banned the importation of goods produced by forced labor under the customs tariff.

The new law should require Canadian companies and federal departments to report annually on measures taken to prevent and reduce the risk of forced labor or child labor being used by them or in their supply chains.

It would also likely include an inspection regime and give the minister the power to demand evidence.

In February, a group of parliamentarians and former parliamentarians wrote to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland calling for the tabling of a modern slavery law that could regulate pension fund investments.

This follows a Hong Kong Watch report alleging a number of pension funds have investments in companies involved in China’s Xinjiang region, where Uyghur people have been held in camps.

NDP MP Peter Julian, who introduced one of the private member’s bills, said government legislation is “long overdue”.

“The reality is that if Canadians knew what certain Canadian companies are doing overseas, they would be absolutely appalled at their systematic violation of human rights.”