When we go to a store to buy a shirt, a pair of shoes, a phone, or some groceries. We think about things like; will it fit, how will I look, and will I like what I make with this? One thing we don’t often think about is where it comes from and was someone forced to make it? We don’t think about it, because we trust the systems that brought those things to us. Should we though?
Slavery is not a thing of the past. It is alive and well in many countries around the world. It happens because millions of people live in extreme poverty, making them vulnerable to exploitation in dangerous work.
Pachaiyamma and her husband, Arul (featured below), are survivors of bonded labour in a quarry in India. IJM investigated the rock quarry and found Arul and Pachaiyamma along with 10 other families working in horrifying conditions. They were bound to this work for their lives to pay off family debts. As a result of IJM’s investigation, Pachaiyamma and Arul were freed from bonded labour and then bravely testified against the quarry owner. They have gone on to commit their lives to help neighbours and community members return to their homes. They use their voices to build meaningful relationships with their government officials. They lobbied for their neighbours to have food, land, and everything they needed to live in freedom. Any way that they could bring freedom to these hidden families, they demanded it—loudly.
According to the Global Slavery Index, approximately 25 million are trapped in forced labour slavery - men, women, boys, and girls. But more than half are women and girls. They are exploited in domestic labour, sexual exploitation, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing. In basically every industry that requires labour, there is an opportunity for exploitive practices to prey on the vulnerable for forced labour. Forced labour can easily be involved in making your shirt, shoes, phone and harvesting your groceries.
IJM partners with local authorities in 24 program offices in 14 countries to help free vulnerable people from forced labour slavery. IJM works with partners to strengthen the justice systems that are meant to protect vulnerable people and help them heal from the trauma they have experienced. While modern slavery is illegal everywhere, there are places where laws are ignored by traffickers, employers, police, judges and government officials.
The primary importers of goods from countries with high rates of modern slavery, such as the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom (UK), have passed modern slavery legislation to put pressure on countries with high rates of modern slavery to implement laws and protect vulnerable populations from exploitation. Modern slavery legislation in countries like the UK put the responsibility on businesses importing goods to check their supply chains to identify and address any forms of slavery found in those value chains.
The Canadian government has been slower to enact legislation on modern slavery than other importing countries even though there are thousands of companies in Canada that import goods from countries with high rates of modern slavery. However, this changed on April 29, 2022, when the Senate of Canada passed the Modern Slavery Act, Bill S-211, to help Canadians contribute to the end of modern forced labour in our supply chains. This Act now has been passed to the House of Commons to be reviewed and hopefully enacted.
“This Bill is a first step in the right direction. Forced labour and child labour are complex issues, and we cannot hope to eliminate them through legislation. But I believe S-211 is a reasonable, pragmatic approach that will raise awareness of modern slavery in corporate boardrooms and can lead to positive change. I thank my Senate colleagues for their support, especially members of the Human Rights Committee, and I’m happy to see the debate now move to the House.”
- Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne
“I am pleased to build upon the important initiative of Senator Miville-Dechêne and to act as its sponsor in the House. This is an idea whose time has come. The Forced Labour in Supply Chains Act reflects both the Liberal and Conservative Party’s platform commitments made in the last election. I hope that my Commons colleagues will work constructively to push this Bill forward.”
- M.P. John McKay
IJM Canada is very encouraged to see the Senate of Canada take leadership in helping Canadians contribute to ending forced labour including child labour. IJM Canada is thankful for the work of Senator Julie Miville-Dechene, M.P. John McKay and the rest of the All-Party Group to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. This is a critical step in helping to understand the problem of modern slavery and engage others in helping to end it and support those victimized by it.
Similar actions like Bill C-243 (an Act respecting the elimination of the use of forced labour and child labour in supply chains) and Canada’s CORE (Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise) office are also helping Canada to catch up and lead in the fight against modern slavery. These activities and others, such as social and justice system strengthening in countries with high rates of modern slavery, will help build trust and confidence in the systems that rely on to bring products into Canada.