LILLEY: Trudeau Liberals drag feet on supplier accused of using forced labour

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You can add forced labour to the list of issues Justin Trudeau talks a good game about but fails to actually act on.

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Turns out that a major supplier of medical gloves for the Canadian market during the pandemic is accused of using forced labour and the Trudeau government is dragging its feet.

Like on his claims on reconciliation, being a feminist, and more, Trudeau says the right words but doesn’t act.

Supermax Healthcare Canada, a Montreal-area subsidiary of a Malaysian-based glove maker, has received contracts in excess of $220 million during the pandemic, according to federal records. Their deliveries are now on hold, but the company has not been banned from the federal supply list.

Meanwhile, the Americans have banned Supermax and the British started their own investigation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials found that the company engaged in a number of practices seen as indicators of forced labour, including retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime

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“With 10 of the 11 forced labour indicators identified during the course of our investigation, CBP has ample evidence to conclude that Supermax Corporation Bhd. and its subsidiaries produce gloves in violation of U.S. trade law,” said CBP Office of Trade Executive Assistant Commissioner AnnMarie R. Highsmith. “Until Supermax and its subsidiaries can prove their manufacturing processes are free of forced labour, their goods are not welcome here.”

Company officials announced in October that they hired what they called an independent firm to conduct an investigation with results delivered by mid-November. It’s unclear whether Supermax has finished the report or submitted it to the government.

Requests on the status of the report were sent to representatives of the company and the office of Public Works and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi early Monday morning. Neither side had responded to questions about the report by 6 p.m. Monday.

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“We hope to have a response for you by end of day Tuesday,” a bureaucrat in Tassi’s department emailed.

The questions were simple: Did they have the report from Supermax, was the company still a supplier to the government, and would the report be made public? It shouldn’t take two days to answer those questions unless the government is trying to hide something here.

Meanwhile, in new mandate letters issued to cabinet ministers last week, Trudeau specifically asked Tassi to work on eradicating forced labour.

“To ensure that a whole-of-government approach is taken, support the Minister of Labour in introducing legislation to eradicate forced labour from Canadian supply chains and ensure Canadian businesses operating abroad do not contribute to human rights abuses,” Trudeau’s letter to Tassi read.

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What we are talking about here is a form of modern-day slavery. Governments and companies around the world are having to deal with questions about such practices in their supply chains.

The problem isn’t that the Trudeau government signed a contract with a company now accused of using forced labour; everyone was scrambling to get any and all forms of PPE early in the pandemic and usual due diligence wasn’t performed.

What is a problem, though, is that it’s that once made aware of the problem, the government’s response has been weak at best.

The Americans have declared ample evidence of forced labour practices as determined by the UN’s International Labour Organization and banned the importation of the company’s products. The British have launched their own investigation into allegations of abuse.

The Trudeau government has issued a statement saying it awaits a report from the company, and that it has sought assurances. That doesn’t seem to match the rhetoric from Trudeau on this issue, but then again, that has become par for the course.

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