There are currently estimated to be 40.3 million people living in slavery globally, with the most marginalised members of society such as women, children and minorities disproportionally affected. 71% of victims are female, and of this number 75% are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Furthermore, in 2016 it was estimated that 25% of victims were under 18. Modern forms of slavery typically don’t involve legal ownership of people but consist of situations where individuals are trapped or forced into slavery-like conditions.
The factors that drive modern slavery typically consist of both micro factors, which occur at the individual or household level, and macro factors, which occur at the community level. Micro factors include the exposure to social exclusion and marginalisation, poverty, unemployment, lack of education and skills, low socio-economic status as well as lack of access to services and resources. Macro factors include weak institutions and governing bodies who have little access to resources and limited democratic processes. These factors are of course all greatly amplified in the wake of climate-related disasters, but if they already exist it also means that the effects of climate-related disasters are felt much more deeply.
There are three primary routes that link climate change and modern slavery. The first is sudden events that occur in the immediate aftermath of climate related disasters. Survivors are often left with no home, community, means of earning of living or family members on which they previously depended. As a result, they are often forced to engage in many activities that fall under the umbrella of modern slavery in order to survive. For example, in the wake of cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, widowed women were targeted by traffickers and forced into prostitution or hard labour.
Secondly, there are climate related events that occur with a slower onset. For example, climate-induced variability in temperature and rainfall can lead to drought, drinking water shortage and food insecurity. As a result, communities who are dependent on natural resources and farming for their livelihood are forced to search for other means of living, typically dangerous migration journeys or incurring large debts. Thirdly, there is large-scale forced displacement as a result of conflict which is itself triggered by slow onset natural disasters such drought and famine.
The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimated that last year intense storms and flooding displaced three times as many people than violent conflicts, with the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) reaching 55 million, the highest number on record. The World Bank predicts that climate change could force 216 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050.
These links demonstrate how organisations who wish to address human rights and modern slavery concerns in their business through their due diligence processes must also consider their carbon footprint and environmental impact, as this has further implications for those issues.
What Does This Mean for Businesses?
- Address modern slavery concerns in supply chains. If modern slavery were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, after China and the United States. Modern slavery is likely to be more common place in the wake of environmental disasters when communities are uprooted from their normal means of survival and many are forced to migrate. It’s important during these times that businesses are vigilant to any exploitation or poor conditions that exist in their supply chains if they are located in impacted regions.
- Move quickly towards carbon neutrality. The more carbon a business emits, the greater their contribution to climate related disasters. Therefore, businesses that are serious about tackling modern slavery and human rights abuses must assess their carbon contribution and ensure ambitious targets are put into place to become carbon neutral.
- Address sustainability in supply chains. Businesses should take advantage of the demand from consumers for environmentally sustainable goods and ensure that all areas of their supply chains are carbon neutral and sustainable. Ensuring practices are sustainable is particularly important for human rights as unsustainable practices tend to damage communities and they people who live in them, including for future generations, through resource depletion and pollution
- Encourage a sustainable work culture. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that many more jobs can be done over the internet, based at home, than previously thought. Home-based working is a great way for businesses to cut down on their climate impact by reducing unnecessary carbon-intensive commutes. Therefore, businesses should offer flexible, home-based or hybrid working when possible. Furthermore, schemes like the Cycle to Work schemeencourage carbon-neutral journeys when commutes are unavoidable.
- Ensure energy efficiency. Businesses should work towards reducing energy consumption in addition to reducing their carbon impacts. This involves analysing which processes are using energy needlessly and improving them. While switching to renewable energy sources can reduce carbon footprints, reducing overall energy usage is vital from a global perspective as the race for materials for renewable infrastructure poses major challenges in terms of human rights in the places where those materials may be sourced from. This will also lead to reduced costs alongside the positive environmental impact.
Register for our next free webinar, ‘Business and Human Rights: The Interconnection to Climate Change’ to learn about the unassailable human rights impacts being wrought by climate change, ranging from the direct effects on populations by rising sea levels and deforestation that lead to migration patterns, to more subtle but no less challenging impacts such as violations in labour rights, working conditions and practices.