A United Nations expert described Canada’s temporary foreign workers program as “a breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery” in a recent statement

Following a 14-day visit to the country, Tomoya Obokata, the Human Rights Council-appointed Special Rapporteur on modern slavery, issued a stark warning about the plight of migrant workers in Canada.

At the heart of Obokata’s concern are the precarious conditions faced by migrant workers, who often find themselves trapped in exploitative situations with limited recourse for reporting abuses due to the employer-specific work permit regimes, including certain Temporary Foreign Worker Programs. 

These circumstances, according to Obokata, render migrant workers vulnerable to what he refers to as “contemporary forms of slavery.”

“I am disturbed by the fact that many migrant workers are exploited and abused in this country,” said Obokata.

“Agricultural and low-wage streams of the temporary foreign workers program constitute a breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery.”

Obokata also urged the Canadian government to intensify to safeguard the rights of foreign workers while they’re in Canada. Additionally, Obokata wants Canada to create a permanent residency pathway for all migrants.

A number of Jamaican migrant workers were recently sent back to Jamaica after holding a one-day strike to protest conditions at an Ontario farm. 

The expulsion prompted a meeting with Jamaica’s Labour Minister Pearnel Charles and the migrant workers. 

Jamaica has said that it will conduct an ongoing investigation after videos shared on social media showed overflowing toilets only separated by shower curtains at one farm. 

Ottawa has since said it too will look into the circumstances around the incident.  

“The Government of Canada takes its responsibilities with respect to the protection of temporary foreign workers very seriously and takes all necessary measures to ensure their health and safety and to ensure that their rights are respected while they are in Canada,” said Employment and Social Development Canada spokesperson Samuelle Carbonneau.

“The mistreatment or abuse of temporary foreign workers is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”