Responsible Sourcing and Supply Chain Diligence: What Canada’s Proposed Anti-Forced and Child Labour Legislation Could Mean for Your Business
- Bill S-211, An Act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act and to amend the Customs Tariff (“Bill S-211”), which was introduced by the federal government of Canada on November 24, 2021, and is currently expected to come into force in 2023, marks the government’s latest effort to enact legislation to mandate transparency and reduce the risk of forced labour and child labour in an organization’s supply chain.
- Under Bill S-211, certain federal government institutions and a wide array of private sector “entities” engaged in certain activities (including companies listed on a Canadian stock exchange) are required to report on any risks that forced labour and/or child labour may be present in their supply chains, and disclose the policies, procedures, structures and plans they have implemented to mitigate those risks.
- Bill S-211 also notes that goods that are mined, manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour or child labour shall be prohibited under Canada’s Customs Tariff.
- While the first reports under Bill S-211 may be due as early as May 2024, organizations can take a number of steps to prepare themselves for the reporting obligations set out under Bill S-211.
On November 24, 2021, the federal government of Canada introduced Bill S-211, An Act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act and to amend the Customs Tariff (“Bill S-211”) as its latest effort to enact legislation to mandate transparency and reduce the risk of forced labour and child labour in an organization’s supply chain. The Canadian government had previously proposed other legislative regimes to tackle this issue,1 and Bill S-211 incorporates much of the content of its predecessors. The obligations in Bill S-211 are built on the definitions of “child labour” and “forced labour” as set out in the International Labour Organization (“ILO”) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention and the ILO Forced Labour Convention.2 As a result, Bill S-211 sets out new import bans and requires federal government institutions and certain other public and private companies to report on steps taken to reduce and prevent the risk of forced labour and child labour being used in their respective supply chains.
The introduction of Bill S-211 is timely as investors, governmental bodies, consumers, various stakeholders and the general public have exhibited an increased interest in the environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) performance of various organizations. In particular, supply chain risk management and the prevention of forced labour and child labour in the organization and its supply chain have come into focus, and several other international jurisdictions have adopted legislation to address these matters. Furthermore, as Bill S-211 imposes a reporting obligation on numerous organizations, one of the potential “trickle-down” effects of the obligations under Bill S-211 is that organizations may be prompted to examine their business practices more closely, which may lead to the reduction and even elimination of certain risks that pose wider threats to an organization’s operations. Through this internal examination, organizations may identify the presence of forced labour or child labour in their supply chains that could expose the organization to a number of legal risks beyond the scope of Bill S-211 and under labour and criminal legislation in multiple jurisdictions, for example. Moreover, even if there is no risk of forced labour or child labour identified in an organization’s supply chain, the examination indirectly contemplated by Bill S-211 may prompt organizations to revise supplier agreements and implement the necessary mechanisms to identify and mitigate other ESG-related risks that, if left unaddressed, would expose the organization to other financial, regulatory, legal or operational risks.
As Bill S-211 is anticipated to come into force in 2023,3 this article summarizes the key provisions of Bill S-211 in its current form and sets out other helpful guidance that businesses may want to consider as they prepare to comply with the requirements set out under Bill S-211.
Who Will Be Required To Comply With Bill S-211?
The following government institutions will be required to comply with Bill S-211:
- Any Canadian federal government department or ministry of state;
- Any body or office listed in Schedule 1 of the Access to Information Act; and
- Any parent Crown corporation or wholly-owned subsidiary of such a corporation within the meaning of section 82 of the Financial Administration Act.
Furthermore, other private sector “entities” that meet certain criteria will also be required to comply with Bill S-211. An “entity” is defined under Bill S-211 as a corporation or an unincorporated organization, including a trust or a partnership, that:
1. Has a place of business in Canada, does business in Canada, or has assets in Canada and that, based on its consolidated financial statements, meets at least one of the criteria below for at least one of its two most recently completed financial years:
a. Has at least C$20 million in assets;
b. Has generated at least C$40 million in revenue; and
c. Employs an average of at least 250 employees;
2. Is listed on a stock exchange in Canada; or
3. Is otherwise prescribed by any regulations that may accompany Bill S-211, which have not yet been released.
Bill S-211 also notes that the government institutions and private sector entities described previously must be engaged in the following activities:
- Producing, selling or distributing goods in Canada or elsewhere, where “production of goods” is defined as the “manufacturing, growing, extracting and processing of goods”;
- Importing goods produced outside Canada into Canada; or
- Controlling an entity engaged in any of the foregoing activities, where “control” is defined as any direct or indirect control or common control in any manner. Consequently, a parent company that controls one or more subsidiaries, in the manner prescribed by Bill S-211, will be required to report on the activities of these subsidiaries, as discussed further in this article.
Given the broad definition of what constitutes an “entity” and given that there is no minimum threshold for the production, sale, distribution or import of goods that triggers the reporting obligation under Bill S-211, as described further in this article, companies across a variety of sectors and jurisdictions will be required to comply with Bill S-211 as drafted.
What Obligations Are Introduced by Bill S-211?
Bill S-211 introduces two new obligations that the previously noted organizations must comply with. Firstly, all organizations meeting the above-noted criteria under Bill S-211 must publish an annual report (the “Annual Report”) with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (the “Minister”), on or before May 31 of each year, that sets out the steps that the organization has taken during its previous fiscal year to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used at any step of the production of goods in Canada or elsewhere by the organization. Private entities will also be required to report on any steps taken during their previous fiscal year to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used at any step of the production of goods imported into Canada by such entities.
The Annual Reports published by both governmental institutions and private entities must also describe the following aspects of the organization’s prior fiscal year:
- The organization’s structure, activities and supply chains;
- The organization’s policies and due diligence processes in relation to forced labour and child labour;
- The parts of the organization’s business and supply chains that carry a risk of forced labour 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;
- Any measures taken to remediate the loss of income to the most vulnerable families that results from any measure taken to eliminate the use of forced labour or child labour in its activities and supply chains;
- The training provided to employees on forced labour and child labour; and
- How the organization assesses its effectiveness in ensuring that forced labour and child labour are not being used in its business and supply chains.
Bill S-211 notes that governmental institutions and private entities may submit individual reports for each applicable parent company and subsidiary, or one report may be provided for all applicable corporate bodies. Furthermore, in addition to submitting their Annual Reports to the Minister, governmental institutions and private entities alike are required to make their Annual Reports available to the public, including by publishing the Annual Report on a prominent place on the organization’s website. Federally incorporated companies (e.g., companies existing under the Canada Business Corporations Act) will also be required to send their Annual Report to its shareholders with their annual financial statements.
Furthermore, Bill S-211 extends the existing import ban under Canada’s Customs Tariff to goods that are mined, manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour or child labour.
How Will Bill S-211 Be Enforced?
Bill S-211 contemplates that failing to file an Annual Report, failing to have the Annual Report approved by the organization’s board of directors, failing to have the Annual Report signed by a director, and knowingly making a false or misleading statement in the Annual Report will constitute an offence. Furthermore, for federally incorporated companies, failing to send the Annual Report to the company’s shareholders with the company’s annual financial statements will also constitute an offence.
Broadly speaking, Bill S-211 equips any persons designated by the Minister with far-reaching investigative powers and the authority to take any necessary measures against organizations deemed to have committed an offence. Bill S-211 does specify certain penalties for committing any of the aforementioned offences, noting, however, that offending organizations may be liable for a fine of up to $250,000 per offence, and directors and officers who direct, authorize, assent to, acquiesce or participate in the commission of an offence may be personally liable.
When Will Bill S-211 Come Into Force?
If Bill S-211 passes third reading in the House of Commons and receives royal assent in 2023, the first Annual Reports will be due by May 31, 2024. As a result, any organizations required to report under Bill S-211 will be required to disclose the steps they have taken during 2023 to address any risks in their supply chains.
How Does Bill S-211 Compare to Other International Instruments?
As noted above, a number of global jurisdictions have adopted anti-forced labour and anti-child labour legislation. Bill S-211 is similar to legislation adopted in the United Kingdom, Australia and California, which establish reporting obligations for certain types of organizations. However, Bill S-211 specifically focuses on forced labour and child labour, and does not explicitly capture human trafficking and other forms of exploitation captured in alternative definitions of modern slavery. Furthermore, unlike similar legislation adopted in France, Germany and the Netherlands, Bill S-211 does not state that an organization must conduct due diligence. However, as discussed below, conducting due diligence is a key exercise in producing the Annual Reports. Finally, in contrast to most other jurisdictions, Bill S-211 imposes harsher penalties for lack of compliance.
How Can Businesses Prepare To Comply With Bill S-211?
Bill S-211 is yet to be passed and may be subject to further finalization and amendment. However, organizations can take several proactive steps to ensure they are prepared to comply with any reporting requirements under Bill S-211, such as:
- Conducting due diligence to both identify any forced labour or child labour in their respective supply chains and track the effectiveness of certain frameworks and policies to ensure that the risk of forced labour and child labour is reduced. Due diligence processes may be structured in a variety of ways, depending on the organization’s size and industry. However, the United Nations Global Compact Business & Human Rights Navigator sets out certain procedures for conducting such due diligence, which may be broadly useful as a starting point for developing suitable frameworks and conducting supply chain due diligence;
- Implementing supplier codes of conduct setting out, for example, certain necessary prohibitions and monitoring procedures regarding suppliers’ labour practices and, specifically, the use of forced labour or child labour;
- Training directors, officers and internal personnel on their duties in light of the pending obligations under Bill S-211; and
- Proactively reviewing and updating contracts with existing suppliers to ensure that any risks associated with forced labour or child labour are promptly addressed and mitigated.
Aird & Berlis will continue to monitor the development and implementation of Bill S-211. Please contact us at any time if you have any questions regarding the status of, and your compliance with, Bill S-211.
 Bill C-423, Modern Slavery Act, a private member’s bill which was abandoned when Parliament was dissolved prior to the fall 2019 elections; Bill S-211, An Act to enact the Modern Slavery Act and to amend the Customs Tariff, which was introduced on February 5, 2020, but died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in August 2020; and Bill S-216, An Act to enact the Modern Slavery Act and to amend the Customs Tariff, which was introduced on October 29, 2020, but did not move past consideration in the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Commerce and the Economy.
 The ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) defines forced or compulsory labour as “all work or service which is extracted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” The ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) notes that the worst forms of child labour comprises, in the case of anyone under the age of 18: (i) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; (ii) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; (iii) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; or (iv) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
 Bill S-211 has already been considered by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, which issued its Eighth Report on Bill S-211 on November 28, 2022, and reported Bill S-211 to the House of Commons on November 30, 2022, without amendment. Bill S-211 is in its third and final reading in the House of Commons.