Companies making Mountie and military uniforms can't use cut-rate or child labour, Ottawa declares

Potential suppliers of uniforms for Mounties, park wardens, prison guards and soldiers must promise to pay fair wages and reject child labour in foreign factories.

New federal purchasing policy sets ethical standards for working conditions in foreign factories

Public Works has established new guidelines on the procurement for uniforms for RCMP officers, members of the military, border guards and other federal employees that establish standards for working conditions in foreign factories. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Potential suppliers of uniforms for Mounties, park wardens, prison guards and soldiers must now promise to pay fair wages and shun child labour in their foreign factories.

Under new federal procurement rules, bidders must sign a certification letter that says they will uphold eight principles for safe and humane working conditions set out in international conventions.

"Our department is committed to purchasing goods and services through an open, fair and transparent process from vendors who operate in an ethically and socially responsible manner and observe international and local laws, norms and standards on labour and human rights," said Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Michèle LaRose.

Government contracts for apparel are worth about $127 million a year. About 88 per cent of that clothing is already made in Canada — mostly uniforms for various federal workers, such as border guards and Coast Guard employees.

Simon Lewchuk, policy adviser on child rights and protection for World Vision Canada, said the move to strengthen the procurement policy is necessary but doesn't go far enough. He called the new guidelines "a step in the right direction," but added they must be accompanied by other government actions.

"The shortcoming of these types of attestation and sign-off is that it can become a tick-box exercise and doesn't get at how companies are taking action to ensure these policy commitments are actually implemented," he said.

Lewchuk is calling on the government to pass legislation — along the lines of laws introduced by the U.K., Netherlands and France — that would require companies to publicly report on specific steps they're taking to prevent and address child labour, modern slavery and other human rights abuses.

"It would then give consumers, civil society and investors a basis for actual dialogue with companies on these issues," he said.

The ethics of the apparel industry and its working conditions faced global scrutiny after April 24, 2013, when the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. Thousands of workers sewing clothing for fast-fashion brands were trapped inside; 1,134 people were killed.

About 88 per cent of the uniforms for correctional officers, RCMP, military members and other federal workers are now made in Canada. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Last November, the government announced it would solicit input from apparel suppliers to develop guidelines for ethical procurement. At the time, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough said the government is committed to buying goods and services from suppliers that operate in an ethical and socially responsible manner.

"By focusing attention on this outcome, the government of Canada will be aligning itself with the approach many companies are already taking to ensure the integrity and security of their supply chains," she said in a statement.

According to the new rules, bidders and first-tier subcontractors must meet standards on:

Child labour: Work must not be done by children who are younger than the minimum age for employment under the country's laws, and no younger than the compulsory age for attending school. Children must be protected from exploitation and from doing any work that is dangerous or could interfere with their education.

Forced labour: Work must be done voluntarily and not as a result of human trafficking or the threat of penalty.

Abuse and harassment. Suppliers must treat their employees with dignity and respect. No employees should be subjected to physical, sexual or verbal harassment or abuse.

Discrimination: Suppliers must not discriminate against employees in hiring or work conditions on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability or conviction of any offence for which a pardon has been granted, or in respect of which a record of suspension has been ordered.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining: Where provided for by law, suppliers and subcontractors must respect the right of employees to organize and collectively bargain.

Occupational health and safety: Suppliers must provide workers with a safe and healthy work environment and, at minimum, comply with local and national health and safety laws.

Fair wages: Suppliers must provide wages and benefits that comply with laws and regulations that match or exceed the local prevailing wages and benefits in the relevant industry or constitute a living wage, whichever is greater. Where compensation does not provide a living wage, the suppliers must ensure that real wages are increased annually to close the gap.

Hours of work: Except in extraordinary circumstances, employees must not be required to work more than 48 hours per week.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.