Canadian firms could be fined up to CAD250,000 (US$199,000) if they are found to import slave-made goods under a new bill being weighed by parliament.

According to local press, the Senate gave a second reading to Bill S-216; An Act to enact the Modern Slavery Act and to amend the Customs Tariff, whose first reading was in October last year. The second reading passed by unanimous vote. It was referred to hearings of the Senate Banking, Trade and Commerce Committee.

The Bill applies to any entity producing or selling goods in Canada or elsewhere; that imports goods into Canada; or that controls an entity that either produces, sells or imports goods into Canada.

Senator Salma Ataullahjan said: "The need to address the plethora of human rights violations to which vulnerable groups, especially women, are subjected during the production process of our goods is overdue. Bill S-216 focuses on the supply chain and enforces transparency with concrete penalties for companies that fail to comply. This means that corporations doing business in Canada will need to report on measures taken to prevent or reduce the use of forced labour or child labour at any step in the production of their goods, thus restricting worker exploitation by subcontractors.

"This transparency is necessary in light of a recent investigation revealing that Canadian companies continue to import goods from Chinese factories accused of serious human rights abuses, especially toward Uyghur workers.

"The modern slavery bill will ensure that Canadian companies prioritise ethical manufacturers in Canada and abroad rather than aim to cut costs by relying on forced and child labour."

Senator Mobina Jaffer added: "The proposed modern slavery bill tackles the issues of child labour and forced labour with the aim of ending such practices. It requires large Canadian companies to ensure their supply chains are transparent and don't rely on child labour or any other form of exploitation. It also imposes an obligation on companies to report on measures taken to prevent child and forced labour. I am very glad that it also proposes amendments to the Customs Tariff to ban goods manufactured or produced by child labour or forced labour.

"I strongly believe that this bill is an important first step in realising much-needed improvement in workers' and children's rights. 

"Passing Bill S-216 is the first step in trying to correct these unacceptable conditions of existence endured by millions of people both abroad and in our own backyard. We can demonstrate our commitment to do so by supporting the bill's main initiative of protecting the rights of workers of all ages, including children, and ending forced labour around the world."