With upwards of 200 million child and forced labourers toiling within the global economic system, the spotlight in 2022 is squarely directed at repairing this global social deficit.
In North America, the process of repair took hold with the passage of the Canada-United States Mexico Free Trade Agreement (known in Canada by the acronym “CUSMA”) in July of 2020. In this landmark regional FTA, the three signatory nations put the importance of addressing the scourge of child and forced labour “front and centre”.
Since mid-2020, the U.S. and Canadian governments, in particular, have undertaken an active agenda in furtherance of its FTA commitment.
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 to exclude goods suspected of using child/forced labour from entry to the United States (through Withhold Release Orders). And, further, earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor provided $10 million to Alliance 8.7, a global partnership for eradicating forced labour, child labour and human trafficking around the world.
Turning to Canada, and running parallel to the United States, there are currently two Senate bills progressing through the Canadian parliamentary system. Further, it was announced at the end of 2021 that the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (Ms. Sheri Meyerhoffer) would be undertaking a study in 2022 of possible use of child labour in overseas supply chains of Canadian garment companies and to gauge the progress in establishing human rights due diligence related to child rights, and remedies.
At the January 13, 2022 meeting of officials under CUSMA, the three signatory nations underscored their ongoing commitment to eradicating child and forced labour with an undertaking to report concrete and measurable outcomes on implementing this key obligation at the next meeting of officials from the three nations.
In 1998, nearly 25 years ago, the global community unanimously endorsed the eradication of child labour and all forms of forced or compulsory labour with the passage of the ILO Fundamental Declaration of Principles and Rights at Work.
Much of the world, including North America, seems intent in 2022, finally, on addressing this serious social problem by adopting measures and taking action towards achieving this essential human rights goal.