NDP International Trade Critic Peter Julian has tabled a second private members bill in a series of “Fair Trade” legislative initiatives designed to “advance sustainable practices, domestic job creation and healthy working condition,” according to a statement on October 21. Bill C-463, an Act to Prohibit Sweatshop Labour Goods, would block “the importation of goods that fail to meet the labour standards as set out by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention and Protocols to which Canada has agreed to.” It is a companion piece to Julian’s Bill C-435, The Made In Canada Procurement Act, tabled September 17, which would require the federal government to “give a preference to Canadian companies in the transfer of money to the provinces, municipalities and private companies, or in the direct purchase of goods and services,” even if this would cost up to 10 per cent more than the cheapest foreign company bid.
Both pieces of legislation are highly progressive and deserve our support, especially as we ramp up the fight against what Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, is describing as a “perfect storm” of new trade agreements that threaten democratic controls over how public money is spent, from the federal level right down to our cities, universities and hospitals. Maude is on tour with Sid Ryan in Ontario right now to describe how current free trade talks with the European Union, ongoing interprovincial agreements that restrict how governments regulate the market, and Prime Minister Harper’s “Buy American” proposal to President Obama will all put unreasonable limits on how governments spend public money.
BUY CANADIAN MAKES SENSE
Julian’s “Made in Canada Procurement Act” would look, in practice, a lot like many “Buy American” laws in the United States. According to the MP’s press release from September 21, this is how it would work:
• “The Canadian products the Government will purchase under the Act must have more than 50% of the total value is manufactured, produced or assembled in Canada. For natural resources, more than 50% of its value must originate in Canada.
• “The Bill applies to transfers of more than $100,000.
• “The Bill applies to the following infrastructure projects: highway, rail and local transportation, tourism and urban development, sewage treatment, water infrastructure, and the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund Act.
• “The Bill requires that the following core labour standards are met in the case of reciprocal procurement agreements: the right of association, the right to collective bargaining, a prohibition on forced labour, a minimum age for child employment, and acceptable working conditions including minimum wages, hours of work and health and safety standards.
• “Exceptions to the policy may be issued by the minister responsible, in writing, in cases where the spending is related to a public emergency, if a Canadian product cannot be procured in sufficient time, if the product is for humanitarian assistance, or if the product is intended for certain uses outside of Canada.
• “With respect to Canada`s international obligations, the Act does not apply to procurement or transfers for which the North American Free Trade Agreement requires a treatment no less favourable than the most favourable treatment that Canada accords to its own suppliers, or for procurements or transfers subject to the Agreement on Government Procurement of the World Trade Organization.”
This is a far cry from Harper’s current strategy — the Building Canada Plan — which asks municipalities to explore the private option before they are eligible for grants over $50 million. (See Water Campaigner Meera Karunananthan’s recent blog entry at Rabble.ca for more on this.) Putting “Buy Canadian” conditions on transfer payments is the most effective way to make sure that public money goes to supporting local economies, as the Obama administration knows very well.
PROTECTING LABOUR RIGHTS
Julian’s anti-sweatshop legislation would “establish a list of prohibited imports when the good is produced, manufactured or assembled in contravention of the labour standards of the International Labour Organization, including the right of association, the right to bargain collectively, the use of forced or compulsory labour, a minimum age for employment of children, established and acceptable conditions of work,” according to the MP’s presentation to the House of Commons on October 21.
“The proliferation of sweatshops fuels a global race to the bottom,” says a briefing note on the private member’s bill. “Multinational companies set up shop in countries with weaker institutions, vulnerable to manipulation. They pay their workers next to nothing, hire young children, and provide no benefits or job security. Workers are forced to operate in unhealthy conditions. While good jobs migrate to sweatshop economies, multinational corporations also use this threat to increase their bargaining power with trade unions and reduce Canadian wages, benefits and standards.”