The federal government is set to ratify an international agreement on combating child labour, but internal documents suggest Canada has little ability or experience enforcing similar provisions in trade agreements.

Those agreements with the world’s most advanced and fastest growing economies allow Canada to exact monetary penalties, including up to $15 million as part of a labour agreement with Colombia.

However, documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the access to information say Canada has little experience in ensuring that international partners meet the binding labour obligations outlined in agreements.

The background material prepared by the labour program at Employment and Social Development Canada last year also says dispute resolution and financial penalty processes are untested internationally.

Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said Canada still needs to work on its enforcement and compliance efforts.

There are various approaches, she says.

"Instead of looking at enforcement and penalties, we’re actively engaged with Colombia, Honduras, Vietnam," she said.

"We would look at providing technical assistance, assisting them to find a different path, encouraging them to follow best practices that comply with the declaration.

"So I would rather see us working co−operatively with other nations rather than looking at penalties."

Mihychuk said she is looking to increase capacity in the area by boosting the federal labour program’s budget, because domestic businesses want the government to make competitors aren’t using child labour to gain an economic advantage.

Next week, Mihychuk will put her signature on the International Labour Organization’s convention on the minimum age for work, bringing Canada on board with 168 other countries that have ratified the convention.

The convention states that the minimum age for work should be 15.

"It’s basically saying that we see the value of young people and that they should be at school, that they should not be in the workforce," Mihychuk said.

Mihychuk said signing the agreement won’t outlaw having tweens help out on the family farms, babysit, or take part in traditional aboriginal practices.

The decision to ratify the convention comes after more than a year of reviews by federal officials and talks with provincial and territorial governments.

Keep reading