The guide to forced and child labour due diligence

January 30, 2024

The guide to forced and child labour due diligence

Why you need to conduct due diligence on forced and child labour in your operations and supply chains.

The new Canadian Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act (the Forced and Child Labour Act or the Act) mandates that subject companies file a compliance report with the Canadian government every year. The report must confirm the steps taken to prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used at any stage in the production of goods (in Canada or internationally) by the company or for goods imported into Canada.

The Forced and Child Labour Act sets out a series of mandatory topics that must be covered in the report. This includes a description of the reporting company’s due diligence processes in relation to forced and child labour, and the steps taken by the company to assess and manage risks.

The Canadian Government also requires subject companies to complete a comprehensive Forced Labour in Canadian Supply Chains Questionnaire. We provide below limited guidance on completing key parts of the questionnaire.

The benefits of implementing forced and child labour due diligence go beyond regulatory compliance. Forced and child labour due diligence will not only help mitigate reputational, operational and commercial risk, it’s also just the right thing to do.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 27.6m victims of forced labour currently being exploited today. Extraordinarily, 160m children, amounting to 10% of the world’s children, were in child labour globally in 2020.

Tackling forced and child labour in your supply chain can seem intimidating.  But it need not be if you follow the structured approach outlined in this guide.

What is child labour and forced labour?

Child labour and forced labour are both forms of modern slavery.

Child labour

Child labour is typically understood to comprise work that is mentally, physically or morally dangerous or harmful to children and/or that interferes with their schooling. Situations in which a child is enslaved, exploited for prostitution or illicit activities or otherwise exposed to serious hazards constitute the worst forms of child labour.

The Forced and Child Labour Act adopts the above definitions of child labour. Furthermore, for labour undertaken in Canada, it confirms that child labour constitutes any labour undertaken by a person under the age of 18 in circumstances that are contrary to applicable laws in the country.

Forced labour

The Forced Labour Convention defines forced labour as work “which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty” and which has not been offered voluntarily.

The Forced and Child Labour Act includes the above definition and goes beyond it to include labour or services that “could reasonably be expected to cause the person to believe their safety or the safety of a person known to them would be threatened if they failed to provide or offer to provide the labour or service.”

What is forced and child labour due diligence?

Forced and child labour due diligence is a structured, four stage process to identify and address risks. It should focus on risk to people, as opposed to risk to your company. That being said, applying forced and child labour due diligence will often help lower your company’s risk exposure as well.

The process we outline below is based on the internationally endorsed United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs) but is focused on risk to workers in supply chains. It also draws upon RightsDD’s practical experience supporting clients around the world to manage human rights risk.

The Forced and Child Labour Act is only concerned with goods, though the UNGPs extends to services as well. We encourage clients to cover both goods and services.

Stage 1. Assess your supply chain

Due diligence begins with an assessment of the likelihood that the goods and services your company buys are made, fully or in part, by forced or child labour.

Consistent with the UNGPs, the Act is designed to reduce child and forced labour “at any step of the production of goods;” due diligence should therefore extend throughout the supply chain. For practical reasons however, the process does allow companies to prioritize the highest risk parts of their operations and supply chains. The scope of due diligence can then be expanded over time.

Prioritization

To conduct a prioritization exercise you should identify general areas in your supply chain where the risk is most significant. Consider which products your buy, where they are coming from and the associated risk profile. For example, agricultural products sourced from countries with a high prevalence of forced labour should be prioritized.

If you have conducted a risk prioritization exercise, simply tick ‘yes’ in the Forced Labour in Canadian Supply Chains Questionnaire for “carrying out a prioritization exercise to focus due diligence efforts on the most severe risks of forced and child labour.”  

Map supply chains

After the risk prioritization exercise, you need to map your supply chains by identifying your relevant suppliers/ vendors (“vendors”) and mapping these to your supply chain. This information is required to identify the first tier of your supply chain (your ‘direct’ or ‘tier 1 suppliers’) and can often be sourced directly from your company’s information systems, e.g. the billing or accounting system.

Ideally you should assess risk throughout your supply chains and map the second tier (i.e., your suppliers’ suppliers) and beyond. It may not be possible to identify every supplier at every stage of your supply chain, however.

An alternative approach is to consider which raw materials and stages of manufacturing have gone into making a given good.  For example, a lithium-ion battery is likely to contain raw materials such a cobalt, 73% of which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and which has a heightened risk of child labour. The raw materials will probably have gone through multiple stages of processing in China, as they are turned into the finished product. The US Government has banned imports of goods made by various Chinese battery manufacturers, active throughout the battery supply chain, on forced labour grounds.

Doing the above will allow you to tick yes to “mapping supply chains” in Forced Labour in Canadian Supply Chains Questionnaire.

Engagement

You will then need to engage with your vendors to gain the necessary insights into their supply chains. For example, understanding what level of risk management they have in place to ensure forced or child labour is not occurring in their own operations or supply chain.

This might be as simple as asking for a confirmation of what policies and processes they have in place. If however, it’s a supplier of a higher risk product or service, more in-depth due diligence may be required e.g. a site visit or engaging an independent third party assessment.

Assessment

Next, identify and gather data on, relevant risk indicators. There is no prescriptive list of risk indicators. Rather you should select those that you think are most relevant to your operations and supply chain. As an example, RightsDDact, our modern slavery due diligence technology, uses the following risk indicators:

Gather data on these risk indicators from your own organisation, suppliers and other credible third party sources. RightsDDact can do this for you, so contact us if you would like help.

Once you have identified the relevant risk indicators and collated the necessary data, you need to conduct the assessment itself. We typically build a risk assessment matrix with each risk indicator appropriately weighted and prioritised. The output of this assessment should be a list of impacts, categorised by risk.

For further information on the risk assessment process, see our Essential Guide to Modern Slavery Risk Assessment.

Stage 2. Act to address risk

Once you have identified the impacts, you will need to determine which ones to tackle first. We advise splitting the impacts into those associated with your operations and those associated with your supply chain. Impacts should be further subcategorised into actual and potential ones.

Actual impacts

Actual impacts are incidents where your business activity is resulting in individuals being forced into forced or child labour. Actual impacts should be addressed first, in particular those associated with your company’s own operations.

Where an actual impact has occurred and is associated with your company’s own operations, the company should take immediate action to stop the resulting child or forced labour. Your company should seek expert advice and engage with the relevant Government authorities.  

In situations where the impact is in your supply chain, you should use what leverage your company has over the supplier to try to end the abuse.

It may also be appropriate to provide remediation to the affected workers. Seek advice from human rights experts if you are unsure about the appropriate mitigation measures to take.

Potential impacts

Potential impacts result from policies or practices that create the opportunity for people to be coerced into forced or child labour. For example, the charging of recruitment fees to workers increases their exposure to debt slavery, a form of forced labour.

In cases of potential impact, you should adjust the policies or practices that have given rise to the risk. The changes should be integrated into your company’s operations. Where it is a supplier or another third party’s activities that are creating the potential impact, you may try to alter their policies and practices by explaining the issue to them, implementing a supplier code of conduct, and changing contractual terms to address the issue.

You should try to work with suppliers to address risks, as this is the best way to protect workers from forced and child labour. If the supplier refuses to engage and address the issue, you will have to stop buying from them.

The UNGPs encourage companies to make a policy commitment to respect human rights. We further recommend that companies maintain a forced and child labour risk management policy, which identifies likely risks and appropriate mitigations. We have found such policies to be invaluable when problems emerge.

Stage 3. Monitor vendors

Supply chains change continuously, with most companies taking on new vendors and expanding the range of goods they buy from existing ones throughout the year. You should assess new vendors and goods as they are onboarded. Companies should do everything they can to avoid initiating commercial relationships with suppliers that are not managing this risk.

Likewise, the risk landscape of your supply chain will change over time. Monitor your vendors and address new risks as they emerge. Monitoring can include adverse media monitoring.

By employing a proper adverse media monitoring process, you may avoid ethical and reputational damage. For example, in December 2020 we identified that garments and personal protective equipment made in a Chinese factory employing North Korean forced labour was likely being sold by five companies in the US and Canada. In November 2021 Canadian national broadcaster CBC aired a TV report which identified one of the Canadian retailers in question.

Continuous monitoring is a critical part of forced and child labour due diligence but is time consuming. RightsDD technology monitor supplier human rights risk across various industries and suppliers.  Contact us if you would like further information.

Monitoring suppliers is a key part of the due diligence process and doing so will allow you to answer ‘yes’ to the ‘Monitoring suppliers’ field in the Forced Labour in Canadian Supply Chains Questionnaire.

Stage 4. Communicate with key stakeholders and report

Engage with relevant stakeholders throughout the process. This will help you assess risk better and decide which risk mitigations to take.

Include a comprehensive overview of the forced and child labour due diligence process in the report and questionnaire that you submit to the Canadian Government.

Include an overview of your  due diligence in any sustainability report that you publish, ideally include it in your annual report as well. This will help third parties, including investors, understand what you are doing to reduce the risk within your organization. ESG ratings agencies and NGO initiatives such as KnowTheChain reward transparency.

If your company is subject to the Australian and/or UK Modern Slavery Acts’ reporting requirements, you can expand the above outlined process to cover all relevant modern slavery risks (notably human trafficking). You can then report on it in your modern slavery statements. See our guide to reporting under the two acts for further information.

Don’t exaggerate your efforts or understate the risk profile of your operations or supply chain. Only claim that your operations and/or your supply chain are 'low risk' if your due diligence genuinely supports this conclusion.

Additionally, it's prudent to develop an incident response plan to effectively address any potential human rights issues that may arise in the future.

In summary

Forced and child labour due diligence will protect workers in your operations and supply chain. It will also allow your company to comply with the Canadian Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act. In practice, it is likely to also help protect the company from legal, reputational and operational risk.

Using a structure approach, and documenting key decisions, will pay off in the long-term. Consider training your team on modern slavery, it will build their knowledge and confidence.

About the author
Oliver Cushing is the CEO of RightsDD and is a business and human rights expert.
RightsDD are the modern slavery specialists. Our RightsDDact technology enables companies to assess and monitor their supply chains for modern slavery risk. We also provide training and consultancy to companies around the world. Contact us to learn more.