Combined action on climate change and modern slavery presents new opportunities, research finds

Tuesday, 06 February 2024

New research from Nottingham Rights Lab and the University of Nottingham School of Geography shows that combined climate change and modern slavery responses are currently lacking but there are opportunities available to reduce increasing vulnerabilities in affected communities.

Researchers found that climate change is a driving factor in promoting modern slavery, and that current recommendations focused on addressing the two topics were limited in their scope and usefulness for policymakers. 

Currently, policies to address modern slavery and climate change are treated as separate entities. Researchers therefore call for the two issues to be addressed together to allow for effective strategies to be put in place. 

Changing environmental conditions and slow onset events, such as drought, and rapid-onset events , such as earthquakes, can cause long-term displacement or long-term migration, which can heighten the risk of vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

The research, in partnership with Transparentem and International Justice Mission (IJM) UK, found that governance actors across the UK national and devolved administrations face both challenges and opportunities to address modern slavery and climate change within the policy space. 

The new report makes 17 recommendations to reduce the risks posed by modern slavery and climate change, including but not limited to: legislative change, international collaboration, investment opportunities, support mechanisms, and funding further research in this area.

Bethany Jackson
There are encouraging signs of addressing climate change and modern slavery within the UK and devolved administrations, and our active engagement with policymakers seeking to make positive change have shown this.
Dr Bethany Jackson, Nottingham Rights Lab

Dr Jackson continued: "Some areas of the UK are more advanced in their thinking around addressing climate change and intersectional issues such as decent work, but there is willingness in other areas of the UK to do the same whether internally. This research shows there is still a long way to go, but the seeds for combined action have been sown.”  

Dr Victoria Tecca, Policy Impact Manager at the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), which funded the research, said:

“Climate change and modern slavery are increasingly connected, for example as the climate crisis forces people to migrate, they can become more vulnerable to exploitation. Policymakers can more effectively address both issues by considering them in tandem. We hope that this evidence will support their efforts to do so more consistently and comprehensively.”

Mary Sebastian, from International Justice Mission UK, said:

“International Justice Mission’s frontline work to stop modern slavery has witnessed a relationship between environmental degradation and climate change, and modern slavery and human trafficking. This research highlights an opportunity for the U.K. and global governments to invest in solutions that address both slavery and climate change simultaneously, which could deliver powerful results in protecting people vulnerable to these phenomena.”

Research into regulatory approaches around the world tackling forced labour and climate change point to several promising strategies spanning disclosure and transparency initiatives, mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requirements, and targeted import bans. There is an exciting opportunity at hand for the UK to adopt the most effective of these strategies and to further innovate and lead on policy at the nexus of forced labour and climate change going forward.”
Jonathan Mead, Transparentem

The full report is available here.

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