Canada's legal responsibilities on international human rights.

AuthorCooper, John

Reading Time: 6 minutes

If passed, Bill C-262 will hold Canadian companies accountable for adverse impacts on human rights in their business activities abroad.

Human rights are embedded in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are also an essential component of Canada's approach to both domestic and international relations.

But how enforceable are these rights on the global stage, especially when considered against the backdrop of international business? Around the world, people are victims of political oppression, social restrictions, forced labour, environmental damage, torture, and activities often driven by western business interests, from oil and mining to agriculture and manufacturing.

These activities are driving a call for "due diligence mandates" demanding that companies adopt transparent and accountable reporting on their international activities with respect to human rights. So how effective is Canada (and by extension, Canadian business) in standing up for the rights of the world's citizens?

The Uyghurs in China

Consider the Uyghurs (also spelled Uighers), a mainly Muslim ethnic group with a 1,700-year history in Northwestern China's Xinjiang region. Xinjiang is China's largest province at 1,665 million square kilometres. Uyghurs there have been the target of genocide for decades. The media have widely reported that since 2017, the Chinese government imprisoned more than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang "re-education" camps, with a "shoot-to-kill" policy for potential escapees. The remaining 11 million-plus Uyghurs are the subject of coerced labour, constant surveillance, religious restriction and forced sterilization.

In 2021, Canada joined the U.S. in recognizing this treatment as a form of crimes- against-humanity and genocide (from the Greek genos meaning tribe and Latin cide meaning killing). In 1946, the United Nations General Assembly defined genocide as:

Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;

  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The challenge for lawmakers and business? Canada is an endpoint for products made with forced Uyghur labour. The...

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