Systemic problems undermine worker’s rights
Tomoya Obokata, the Human Rights Council-appointed special rapporteur spent two weeks traveling across Canada and speaking to migrant workers. They told him that the current employer-specific work permit system means they cannot report abuses without fear of deportation. This threat leaves migrant workers extremely vulnerable to modern slavery.
“I am deeply disturbed by the accounts of exploitation and abuse shared with me by migrant workers.”
Obokata is urging the Canadian government to step up its efforts to safeguard workers’ rights and offer a clear pathway to permanent residency for migrants.
Damning reports and multiple investigations
According to Statistics Canada, about one-quarter of Canada’s agricultural workforce and about one-tenth of the food and beverage manufacturing sector is made up of temporary foreign workers. From farms to fishing, the goal of the program is ostensibly to “help workers access pathways to qualify for permanent residency, enabling them to contribute to our workforce for the long-term.”
However, in addition to the recent U.N. report, a 2021 report found that during the pandemic, despite repeated warnings, Ottawa failed to properly protect foreign temporary workers according to the National Post.
Canada’s Auditor General Karen Hogan, who shared the report said:
“These findings point to a systemic problem across the department’s inspection regime that needs immediate attention.”
In addition, in July, Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), which investigates ethical violations, launched a investigation into both Nike Canada and Dynasty Gold Corp due to evidence of Uyghur forced labor in their supply chains and operations in China. This investigation comes on the heels of criticism of the ombudsman earlier in the year for failing to submit a single report to the International Trade Minister.
For 2022 updates, the proof is in the pudding
In 2022 the Canadian government did make updates to the temporary worker program aimed at prohibiting employers from being able to take reprisals against employees who spoke up about abuse.
But according to Obokata more needs to be done:
“I urge the Government to bring forward legislation requiring Canadian companies to implement mandatory human rights due diligence, and expand the independence, powers, and mandate of the CORE,”
Freedom United stands with Obokata and the U.N. Human Rights Council in calling on the Canadian government to do more to ensure migrant workers can speak out about labor exploitation without fear of reprisals. That is the only way to root out modern slavery in Canada’s fields and factories and keep this valuable workforce slavery free.