Canadian Global News reported that Ottawa’s corporate ethics watchdog, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, has launched an investigation into fashion giant Ralph Lauren amid accusations of using forced labor within its supply chains. The probe centers on whether Ralph Lauren Canada LP has taken sufficient steps to eliminate materials associated with the alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs by the Chinese government.
Sheri Meyerhoffer, the Ombudsperson, has also placed Toronto-based mining firm GobiMin Inc. on notice regarding possible forced labor practices within its supply chains. Meyerhoffer’s report highlights Ralph Lauren’s reluctance to cooperate during the initial assessment phase, ultimately impacting the thoroughness of the investigation. The company’s shifting stance from non-participation to willingness to collaborate complicated the assessment process.
The report emphasizes the need for corporate due diligence and policies aimed at mitigating the risk of forced labor, highlighting the importance of an open and responsive mechanism for addressing complaints. Ralph Lauren has faced scrutiny over the sourcing of its textile materials from suppliers accused of using “Xinjiang” cotton linked to forced labor practices.
While Beijing has denied allegations of forced labor among Uyghur citizens, the United Nations and the U.S. government have raised concerns about human rights violations against the Uyghur minority. Meyerhoffer’s report underlines the urgency for transparency and accountability in addressing these concerns within the business realm.
Meyerhoffer has encouraged Ralph Lauren to engage in private mediation with the coalition of human rights groups that lodged the complaint. The ombudsperson also called for improved corporate reporting from GobiMin following allegations of forced labor at a “Xinjiang” gold mine previously owned by the company.
This investigation marks the latest efforts by Canadian authorities to ensure responsible business practices and ethical supply chains. However, critics have noted limitations in the Ombudsperson’s authority, such as the inability to impose fines or punitive measures on companies found to be acting in bad faith.