As we recover from the pandemic, a concerted effort is underway to rekindle global economic activity but, and this is the essential point, no longer in isolation. Running alongside economic recovery is the quest for real social progress. The view of many, albeit far from all, is that attainment of a sustainable and robust global economic system must be founded on a balance between economic development and social progress.
A scan of the world reveals that Europe has been very active in the social arena with, for example, the passage of the German Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains Act (July 16, 2021) and the recent release of the EU Commission's proposed Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (February 23, 2022). The European direction can be described as a legislative push to enrich Pillar 2 of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (businesses duty to respect human rights) from voluntary to mandatory requirements around the human rights footprint of corporations.
Europe is not alone in terms of advances in the social arena – North America is also making its own distinctive progress.
In addition to the attention paid to the elimination of child and forced labour and freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in the recently negotiated Canada/United States/Mexico (CUSMA) Free Trade Agreement (July 1, 2020), the US and Canada have also been engaged in domestic processes aimed at enacting modern slavery legislation.
In the United States, where much of the focus of attention has been on goods emerging from the Xinjiang province in China, a legislative response has been crafted in conjunction with efforts by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency to exclude goods suspected of using child/forced labour from entry to the United States (through Withhold Release Orders). The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was signed into law on December 23, 2021 and will come into force on June 21, 2022. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act prohibits the importation of goods produced using forced labour in China, especially in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and imposes sanctions regarding forced labour.
In Canada, the Canadian Senate 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 (Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act), to respond to the use of forced labour within Canadian businesses’ supply chains. Bill S-211 is one of many bills introduced in the Canadian House of Commons and Senate to respond to forced labour within supply chains and ensure human rights due diligence related to Canadian business activities conducted abroad. The Bill would require Canadian businesses to confirm that none of their products or components are made by forced or child labour. Specifically, entities subject to the Act would be required to provide the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness with an annual modern slavery report on or before May 31 of each year, outlining the steps the entity has taken during the previous financial year to prevent and reduce the risk that forced or child labour is used in the production of goods by the entity, or in the production of goods imported into Canada by the entity. As of June 1, 2022, the Bill has been passed by the Senate and has completed Second Reading in the House of Commons. It is now being considered in committee. If passed, it will enact Canada’s first modern slavery legislation.
The upward trajectory for social change is real and substantial.
Within the body of social reform, there is a pronounced focus on the human rights footprint of corporations in terms of their own operations and activities in the global supply chain (GSC).
This social journey, although accelerating, remains a considerable distance from its ultimate destination.