This holiday season, why should you care about where your gifts come from? We are so used to so many of the goods that we purchase coming from China that it is easy to forget that we are part of the supply chain and our choices matter. So it is also easy to forget what these choices may mean for others.
Right now, Canada's Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise is investigating clothing retailer Guess, for possible human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Probes into Levi Strauss, Walmart, Hugo Boss, and Nike are already underway.
Even with the cost-of-living crisis, Canadians don’t want to support companies getting rich off slavery.
The Canadian government officially recognized the ongoing genocide against the Uyghur population in 2022. Uyghurs are Muslims from Xinjiang province -the Uyghers call it East Turkistan- and for 20 years they have been brutally repressed by the Chinese Communist Party. Between 1 and 3 million Uyghurs have been imprisoned for "re-education", in addition to millions more performing weeks or months of forced labour every year, including children who are picking cotton instead of attending school. These concentration camps - China is running a camp system that rivals the horrors of the Nazis - are destroying the Uyghur community. As importantly, the Uyghurs are being used as slave labour for many well-known Western brands.
Why does this matter? Think if you ran a company, and you didn’t have to pay your workers a salary. Slave labour gives Chinese producers a competitive edge, so of course, Chinese goods are cheaper, especially compared to companies that make the ethical choices not to support slavery. Canadian goods and services cannot compete in a global marketplace when other countries use forced, slave, and child labour.
The issue goes beyond cheap, disposable trinkets or deciding to try to forgo buying from Chinese companies if you can. The Chinese Communist Party influences Chinese companies, who control and influence many of the products that we buy, including our clothes, technology, furniture, equipment, and even our groceries. Often Canadians have no idea where the products that they are consuming come from.
So what can you do, other than to look for alternatives for the gifts that you buy?
First, we need legislation that will help us to make better informed decision by making the information about our products and services more transparent. In the United States, consumers have more information to make better choices. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed in 2021, requires companies importing goods from Xinjiang to certify their products are not produced with forced labor. Over 2,500 shipments have been turned away at the US border.
Canada, where the Chinese Communist Party has deep influence over our established political parties, ignores this approach. We have not rejected a single package. Many, turned away from the United States, enter Canada without issue.
Copying the US law in Canada would protect our supply chains from the world’s biggest source of forced labor. Beyond being the right thing to do for moral reasons, Canadian producers cannot compete against forced labor. For example, souvenir shops sell items that often look like those made by Canadian artisans, but most are manufactured in China. Artisans and small manufacturers can’t compete with slave labor.
Second, we need policies that impose the same costs and requirements on importers and exporters. We ne
ed to ensure that global markets are genuinely competitive. The Canadian Future party is committed to ending trade in slave goods from China and will support any efforts to pass a Made-in-Canada version of that US bill.
Third, we need to support Canadian jobs, manufacturing, and innovation. As a citizen and consumer, you can avoid products associated with forced labor. Most countries don’t have the political, worker, or environmental rights Canadians take for granted but even other dictatorships, like Vietnam and Russia, pay their workers. We need policies that ensure fair and competitive trade, as well as regulatory and taxation simplification. Take a second to look at the tag on that shirt, shoe, or computer monitor. Try to give your money to Canadian businesses if you can, or at least to businesses that make their products in other democracies.
Recent evidence of Chinese and Indian interference in our politics and government, Russia's invasion of sovereign Ukraine and the clear signals from Donald Trump that he will introduce autocracy to the United States if re-elected, illustrates clearly that the part of the world that values democracy and human rights is in an existential battle with the forces of oppression. Let’s show non-democratic entities that we believe in supporting our values with our choices. We need to decouple our economy from any country that wants to use our values and money against us. To do this, consumers need the information necessary to actually make choices. If Canadians demand products and services produced where workers are treated fairly, we will preserve an economy that reflects our democratic and economic values.
So, as you do your last-minute shopping, take an extra second and see if you can find where things are made. Sometimes a better option is right next to the product you picked up and every little bit of pressure helps. If you feel inspired, contact your local MP and ask them to support any legislation that will help ensure that Canadian manufacturers are competing in a fair global market. Lastly, if you are not already involved with the Canadian Future Party, ask how you can get involved in helping to shape policies for the issues you care about. We are a party for finding solutions for a better Canadian future.
Julie Smith, Secretary
Canadian Future Party
PS. If you’re a Canadian Future member, I would love to hear about why you joined this movement for change!