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people and planet

Climate Change & Modern Slavery

Climate change is disrupting livelihoods, putting people in danger, and accelerating migration. A 2018 World Bank report stated that by 2050 if climate action is insufficient, more than 140 million people may be displaced by its impacts.

There is a strong connection between risky migration and various forms of exploitation (i.e. human trafficking, forced labour, and debt bondage). Even as migrants face the risk of being exploited, the detrimental effects of climate change are a major factor driving migration. These phenomena are interconnected.

(Image: Anti-Slavery International).

Efforts to combat modern slavery tend to be specialised and limited to circumscribed areas of state activity. Modern slavery is a multi-dimensional social issue. In focusing on only one of those dimensions, states will fail at adequately preventing harm and protecting victims.

The human impacts of climate change, are ‘likely to challenge or undermine the enjoyment of almost every human right in the international bill of rights’ (UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston). This points to an urgent need to adopt a human rights-based approach to tackling climate change.

There is an incomplete understanding of the relationship between climate change, environmental destruction and contemporary slavery; the complexities must be acknowledged and understood.

More attention must be given to the racialised and gendered impacts of climate change and environmental destruction, such as the links between extractive industries and trafficking for sexual exploitation; and the persistence of forced labour involving peoples of lower castes as well as indigenous adults and children.

  • Increased uncertainties – loss of security and damages to wellbeing, heightens economic precarity and drives migration.
  • Risky or unsafe migration can lead to exploitation.
  • Unsustainable development – reflects a global economic system that privileges unfettered growth over sustainability, wellbeing and human rights.
  • Siloed approaches overseen by distinct ministries may be very different or contradictory, in their aims and methods.
  • Conceptual confusion is notable.

We must empower communities by ensuring collective and individual rights, including marginalised / affected communities in decision-making processes, providing comprehensive social protections and services, facilitating safe migration etc.

Regulation public and private entities and listening to workers through comprehensive reporting and transparency, supply chain regulation, mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence laws, enforcing sanctions, respecting labour unions and embracing worker-driven systems of monitoring and enforcement.

(Image: Anti-Slavery International).

Protecting the environment through the inclusion of marginalised / affected communities in decision-making processes, transparency and due diligence in supply chains, immediate remediation and prosecution etc.

Respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibility for climate change by combining drastic emission-reduction measures in richer, high-emitting countries with significant and sustained financial remediation packages to countries already suffering loss and damage. This will help to support comprehensive adaptation and build resilience in at-risk communities.

Climate Change & Modern Slavery: From a Vicious to a Virtuous Circle

Anti-Slavery International