Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Michael Torrance is a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright in Toronto with expertise in global human rights law and governance.

Canada is lacking a coherent policy approach to address business and human rights as well as the risks of modern slavery in corporate supply chains. Closing this gap should be a priority for the Canadian government to keep up with our global peers and maintain competitive advantage for Canadian business.

An important first step would be to develop a national action plan on responsible business and human rights.

Story continues below advertisement

Such a plan would bring Canada in line with Britain, Australia and the United States, all of which have either introduced legislation or developed action plans in line with global standards.

There is a increasing convergence around the expectation that businesses should respect human rights and take concrete, actionable steps (such as due diligence, monitoring and reporting) to prevent human-rights abuses in company operations and provide remedies if such abuses take place. Many Canadian companies do substantial work to ensure this takes place.

However, there is little or no unifying direction from the Canadian government.

In 2011, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which codifies the concept of corporate respect for human rights. The United States, Britain and several European countries have developed national action plans for implementation of this standard.

Britain introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, which requires businesses of a certain size to report on how they manage the risk of slavery in their global supply chains. While no particular management approach is prescribed, the act of reporting on how companies take steps to address risks of human trafficking, debt bondage and forced labour drives market pressures to adopt best practices. A similar legislative approach has already been adopted in California and will likely soon be adopted in Australia, where public hearings have recently taken place.

But the Canadian government has not yet followed suit.

While human rights and Indigenous rights have been raised by the Canadian government as an issue for discussion in the context of the current North American free-trade agreement negotiations and is regularly addressed in international trade agreements, there is no public policy strategy to address the human-rights impacts of Canadian business globally and in line with international standards. The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights recently commented on a lack of coherent policy in Canada on this topic – underscoring the reputational risk of not addressing it squarely.

Story continues below advertisement

Promotion of good practices will be a net benefit for Canadian companies as it will set a baseline for behaviour that meets the responsible business and human-rights expectations of investors, financiers and customers.

These market actors increasingly condition access to capital and markets on sound human-rights practices. Gaps between Canada's domestic policies and prevailing international standards on business and human rights can be a barrier to capital or markets for Canadian companies. A regulatory strategy in line with international standards and consistent with market expectations will in turn promote competitiveness.

Non-governmental organizations and businesses alike are seeking less uncertainty and this mutual goal could be achieved with a coherent policy strategy.

There is also an important role for government to promote consistency in setting a standard of acceptable conduct to protect the reputation of Canadian business globally. Since 2009, Canada has had in place a corporate social-responsibility strategy for the extractive sector, which is intended to preserve and enhance the reputation of that industry globally. These mechanisms were innovative for their time but are not keeping pace with global developments. The current policy approach is overly focused on the mining sector, ignoring global supply chains that cut across industries.

The current strategy has also failed to address legal uncertainty regarding the remedy of human-rights impacts. This has resulted in multiple costly lawsuits being filed in Canada concerning alleged human-rights impacts outside of Canada.

A national strategy should give thought to how the issue of remedy should be dealt with and whether the courts are in fact the right venue to address these issues. The experience of other jurisdictions strongly suggests they are not. Any national action plan would need to grapple with whether existing remedial avenues are adequate or whether new creative approaches are needed.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada has an opportunity to again be a world leader on the topic of responsible business and human rights. A national action plan will put Canada on a path to promote global competitiveness and enhance Canada's reputation in the field of human rights. It is much needed and long overdue.

This fall, public hearings hosted by the federal government will consider how to deal with the issue of child labour and will inevitably consider the topic of human rights in supply chains.

These hearings will hopefully initiate a dialogue that will move Canada in the right policy direction.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies