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Canadian News Nov 13, 2020 6:31 PM EST

Ethics committee warns consumers of slave labour in Chinese products

The Senate is considering Bill S-211 to enact the Modern Slavery Act.

Ethics committee warns consumers of slave labour in Chinese products
Noah David Alter Toronto

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The Commons Ethics Committee is warning Canadians that products labelled 'made in China' could involve the use of slave labour in their supply chains, and that Canadians and the government should challenge companies to prove that their products are not made with slave labour, according to Blacklock's Reporter.

Conservative MP and Ethics Committee chair David Sweet suggested that Canadians should "find out the origin of products they are buying.” According to Sweet, some products that are made in China involve a production process “so horrendous I’m certain some people would actually look at this and think it’s a movie script, but this is actually happening.”

“I think there is a role for the average Canadian person just like me and you, whenever buying a product, to send an email to the different companies they’re dealing with and ask them to provide proof,” Sweet said in a press conference.

Sweet also uploaded a video to Twitter on Thursday where he spoke more generally about the persecution of Uyghurs, who are often used for slave labour in China. Dozens of major brands which operate in Canada have been implicated by researchers for their complicity in the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs, including Nike, Google, Huawei, and Apple, among others.

The Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights published a scathing report in October describing the conditions under which Uyghurs are kept in China. The report did not mince words, explaining that "the Government of China has been employing various strategies to persecute Muslim groups living in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labour, pervasive state surveillance and population control," among other human rights abuses. The report further described the ongoing situation in East Turkestan as "the largest mass detention of a minority community since the Holocaust."

The report called upon the government of Canada to "impose sanctions on entities and individuals that benefit from the use of forced labour," called for supply chains to be investigated by the government, and blamed corruption within both government and corporations for allowing such unethical practices to continue unchallenged.

“There needs to be a whole new approach to how we deal with the Communist Party of China,” Sweet argued. “I would encourage the government to take the initiative now that Canadians are well aware of this behaviour.”

As calls on the government to take initiative against Chinese economic exploitation continue to mount from across the political spectrum, the Senate is considering Bill S-211 to enact the Modern Slavery Act. Under the act, all importers with more than $40 million in annual sales must submit annual reports to the Department of Public Safety to prove that their supply chains do not rely on child or slave labour, and explain the steps they have taken to ensure it. Those who violate the proposed law would be subject to a $250,000 fine.

The bill also provides sweeping powers to investigate companies which are believed on reasonable grounds to be profiting from forced labour. This includes the seizure of corporate records and equipment, limiting access of corporate executives to their workplaces, and the seizure of any and all goods produced by slaves in whole or in part.

“The directors and officers of the company will have personal liability,” argued Liberal MP John McKay. “We have given the Minister real powers to conduct an investigation.”

The Department of Public Works, the largest commercial purchaser in Canada, is also taking steps to ensure that it is not purchasing products which make use of slave labour. “It’s one thing for the Government of Canada to say, ‘Well, you company X have to comply with this legislation, but we the Government of Canada don’t,” MP McKay argued.

In a notice published by the department in January, Public Works said that they would enact a review of all current suppliers in order to ensure that they are not economically supporting the use of child or slave labour. “The Government of Canada has committed to improving ethical behaviour,” the notice stated.

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