CBA adopts principles to combat labour abuse

The Canadian Bar Association is encouraging in-house counsel to implement a set of business principles within their companies to combat labour abuse.

The CBA adopted the principles this week, saying forced and illegal child labour are “realities we cannot ignore” in this country.

The guideline is inspired by international laws as well as work done by the American Bar Association, but the final document has been tailored to the distinct realities of Canadian businesses, says Frédéric Pérodeau, chairman of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association.

The CCCA, an arm of the CBA, mounted a 10-month effort to draft the principles. They will help combat forced labour, labour trafficking, and illegal child labour if in-house counsel and their business clients adopt them, Pérodeau says.

The model considers situations where people are forced to work but are not trafficked over a geographic area. This could include children. It also considers scenarios that could be happening in Canada, such as children working in family-operated businesses in the agricultural and restaurant sectors.

“These issues exist in Canada,” says Pérodeau. “We feel that we have a responsibility, as the voice of in-house counsel, not only to organize professional development activities but also be proactive in some other fields, including advocacy and moving this resolution before the CBA council.”

The CBA’s resolution, which was adopted by the association’s council, said lawyers, including in-house counsel, have “a pivotal role to play in advising businesses on corporate social responsibility and environmental, social, and governance issues, and reporting on related legal duties and obligations.”

In-house counsel are especially in a position to have a role that goes beyond providing legal expertise to their business clients, according to Pérodeau, who says they are also “the moral compass of the corporate world.”

The model document is not prescriptive, but rather it provides four principles in-house counsel can use to implement their own policies at work.

The principles, in brief, are following:

1. The business should prohibit forced labour, labour trafficking, and illegal or harmful child labour in its operations.

2. The business should conduct risk assessments of the risk of forced labour, labour trafficking, and illegal or harmful child labour in its operations and continually monitor implementation of this statement of principles.

3. The business should train relevant employees, engage in continuous improvement, and maintain effective communications mechanisms with its suppliers.

4. The business should devise a remediation policy and plan that addresses remediation for forced labour, labour trafficking, and illegal or harmful child labour in its operations.

“We wanted to make sure these principles were reflective of the Canadian reality,” Pérodeau says.

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