Making Connections: Modern Slavery, Environmental Destruction, and Climate Change / by Katherine Brickell


We are delighted to be co-hosting the scoping workshop 'Modern Slavery, Environmental Destruction and Climate Change' on 6 June 2018. In this exploratory workshop our aim is to interrogate how environmental change, manifested as climate change, resource depletion or ecological catastrophe, is interlinked with the rise of precarious, informal work across much of the Global South today. We are looking forward to welcoming scholars from a wide range of disciplines together with development practitioners to share evidence and perspectives on these too often overlooked connections.


PANEL ONE Conceptualising, defining and measuring

Doreen Boyd

‘Slavery from Space: Informing the Slavery/Environment Nexus; Resulting in the Antislavery Ecosystem’

There is growing evidence of the tightly coupled relationship between modern slavery and environmental change. The source of one such piece of evidence is remote sensing – the sensors on board satellites that capture imagery of our world. In this presentation a number of studies will be highlighted that have used remote remotely sensed data to allow for the informed analyses of how modern slavery is driving environmental change. The presentation will outline the real potential of using these data to produce a global slavery environmental footprint. Further, the vision of the Antislavery Ecosystem Project which aims to both (i) to compile, synthesise and integrate spatial data on the environmental changes that result from slavery activities and (ii) to calculate the environmental costs of these activities, and the potential gains that stem from curtailing slavery, with a focus on carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services, will be outlined. The presentation will conclude with some thoughts on how existing indices can be used to amalgamate the two perhaps hitherto silos of endeavour on measuring modern slavery and environmental performance in the eventual aim of realising that these are inherently linked and addressing one should provide respite for the other.

Dr Doreen Boyd is Associate Professor and Reader in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham, UK with expertise and research interests in spatial data describing our Earth (principally underpinned by remote sensing) and using the patterns revealed between “people and pixels”. As part of the University of Nottingham’s Beacon of Excellence Rights Lab Doreen is leading two interlinked projects: “Slavery from Space” and “Antislavery Ecosystem”. This work while still in its infancy has already attracted significant attention and funding support from the Economic and Social Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the British Academy.

Ayushman Bhagat

‘Exploring vulnerabilities created through post-disaster anti-trafficking interventions’

The international community has recently started contemplating vulnerability of the people living in high migration zones in the light of natural disasters as one of the means, and human trafficking forced labour and slavery (TFLS) as the end to that means. But there is a policy interest in understanding whether and how disasters impact these areas where people are often considered as vulnerable towards TFLS situation. This juxtaposition of the means and the end – natural disasters and TFLS respectively - has all the potential to spark sensational discussions offering several policy recommendations, which upon implementation has disproportional implications on the lives of people. Hence, unpacking both the narratives critically, whilst thinking through the space where this synergy would take us towards is of utmost importance. Drawing from a recently completed participatory research in an area that saw tremendous loss of lives and infrastructures during the 2015 Nepal earthquake, I would like to argue that by examining various anti-trafficking interventions that took place in the aftermath of the disaster and its possible implications on the people - often tagged as vulnerable towards TFLS - we might be able to envisage the invisible spaces of exploitation created as a result of such interventions.

Ayushman Bhagat is a PhD candidate in (Human) Geography (and Law) at Durham University. He is currently studying whether and how pre- and post-disaster mobility governance enables/disables movement of people in an area of global South which is considered to be prone to human trafficking. Before enrolling in as a research postgraduate, he worked in the development sector of India where he explored issues related to forced/bonded labour, human trafficking, gender, skill development at a policy level, and assisted several forest-dwelling communities in the evolution of self-governing institutions in and around wildlife sanctuaries at the grassroots level. He is trying to combine both the experiences that he obtained while working with NGOs, trade unions, government departments – labour, women and children, and tribal development – social sector consulting, and a specialized United Nations agency (the ILO) in a theoretically charged participatory action research which broadly aims to bring people’s perspective on their mobilities to the fore.

David Brown

‘Opening up the Nexus between Climate Change, Environmental Destruction and Modern Slavery: A Review of Literature’

This research is based on a state-of-the-art literature review that conceptualises a three-way nexus between modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change. In doing so, it critically interrogates the existing literature that has indicated interrelationships between the three and aims to bring new insights to current understandings these phenomena. Research on the modern slavery-environmental destruction-climate change nexus is carried out in the context of the SDGs which explicitly direct attention towards all three of these global challenges. In reviewing and critically evaluating the literature on the nexus, the linkages between modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change can be better understood and pathways for future research and policy directions can be proposed.

David is a research associate on the Anti-slavery Ecosystem project in the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham. This is a research project that is examining the tight connection between modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change. In collaboration with Royal Holloway University of London, David is currently working on developing an extensive and critical review of current literature that cuts across these three areas. David has recently completed his PhD at Coventry University that examined the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) framework through a climate justice lens and from a multiscalar perspective.


PANEL TWO Modern slavery in forests, fisheries, and factory

Maureen Lempke

‘Comparative study of the links between trafficking in persons and environmental degradation associated with deforestation’

Verité is conducting a two- year research project to explore the link between forestry-linked environmental degradation, forced labor and trafficking in persons (TIP) in Mexico, Burma, and Mozambique. The linkages between environmental degradation and human trafficking have been explored in research by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP),1 the International Labour Organization (ILO),2 the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Verité, and the US State Department.3 Although this connection has become increasingly accepted, more detailed research exploring the nature and mechanisms of these connection is needed. In these countries, up to and over 50 percent of logging is estimated to be illegal. Workers in illicit industries within the forest sector, such as illegal logging, are inherently at greater risk of labor trafficking since they cannot turn to the authorities for help and their employers operate out of sight of law enforcement. Workers in legal forest concessions may be subject to debt bondage and other forms of forced labor. Additionally, populations that have experienced loss of land due to land grabs or environmental degradation are often forced into a landless underclass with few economic options and are also at higher risk of being trafficked. This study will explore TIP that results from logging activities, as well as TIP which may result from general vulnerability brought about by deforestation and concomitant environmental degradation. As part of this project, Verité will engage with environmental, wildlife-protection, or other associated organizations in these regions to integrate awareness of human trafficking into their agendas and bolster their capacity to recognize and address human trafficking.

Maureen Moriarty-Lempke Ph.D. has 20 years of experience in international development and specializes in land tenure and property rights issues in conflict-affected areas including Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Russia, Ukraine, Somalia, and more. She has worked with the World Bank, the UN, bilateral donors, and smaller mission driven organizations. Maureen is a researcher at Verité, providing expertise on the intersection between land and forest sector dynamics and vulnerability to trafficking in persons. She also currently serves as a visiting lecturer at Duke University's Program in International Development Policy and teaches courses related to land, conflict, and human security.

Jess Sparks

‘Slavery in Marine Ecosystems’

Despite media attention detailing labor abuses in fisheries, social-ecological systems research has largely failed to consider whether fish stock declines could be contributing to increases slavery. Using fuzzy cognitive mapping—a participatory, semi-quantitative systems modeling technique that uses participants’ knowledge to define complex system dynamics including fuzzy causality (represented as a matter of degree on a spectrum rather than certainty)—we tested the hypothesis by interviewing stakeholders and fishers from global slavery hotspots (n=74). Due to the topic’s sensitivity, both stakeholders (n = 43) and fishers (n = 31) were recruited through a non-probability, convenience sample using snowball techniques that purposefully recruited participants from Southeast Asia, western Africa, eastern North America, western South America, Europe, and Oceania and the Pacific. All participants were interviewed by a researcher also certified as a forensic interviewer of human trafficking victims. In total, fifty-six (75.7%) participants identified slavery as an outcome of marine fish stock declines’ pressures on narrowing profits. Adjacency matrices’ metrics calculated from participant maps indicated illegal fishing, environmental regulations (e.g., marine protected areas and catch shares/quotas), and “the race to fish” as influential variables impacting the relationship. Participants also described increased wildlife crimes as an outcome of increased slavery. Therefore, improved understanding of the complex, and oft unintended, system feedbacks between two historically disparate problems has the potential to lead to new and innovative holistic interventions and policies that simultaneously mitigate illegal and overfishing while improving human rights to aid some of the world’s most vulnerable, fish-dependent communities.

Jess Sparks is a doctoral candidate at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work (Colorado, USA); adjunct faculty at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (Massachusetts, USA); and a 2017 fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program. Her research interests are in social-ecological justice and the relationship between environmental degradation and forced labor and slavery, particularly in marine ecosystems. Her doctoral dissertation is exploring associations between overfishing-induced marine fish stock declines and increases in forced labor and slavery in the context of inadequate international, regional, and local maritime labor policies and natural resource governance.

Laurie Parsons

‘Blood bricks: Climate change and modern slavery in Cambodia’

Climate change deniers have a point. Climate change is not captured by the statistical indices that purport to prove it. Rather, as an abstract relational entity rooted in locality, cultures and livelihoods, it is created by those who perceive it. To discuss the human dimensions of climate change is therefore to consider seven billion trajectories, each deeply embedded in a local and relational set of norms. Yet where the climate is represented to the public or those that represent them any such nuance is lost. At political summits such as the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, the climate is invariably viewed in numerical and universalist terminology. As a process, the contemporary inequalities that drive it are elided in favour of a dichotomy constructed between present and future generations. Discourse centres on adapting behaviour for a depoliticised global youth, thereby stripping the phenomenon of both immediacy and intimacy. It becomes a problem rendered in the subjunctive; a threat to be avoided, rather than an ongoing devastation of the rights, lives and labours of the weak. Taking Cambodia – one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries – as its subject, this presentation therefore explores climate change at a human scale. It makes a case for the embodied physicality of climate change: the illness, disability and death not captured by the numbers, but above all it interrogates how economic systems and labour frameworks shape and direct these changes. As outlined here, slavery in the form of bonded and exploitative labour is no local aberration, but a global economic response to ecological precarity.

Laurie Parsons is British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Royal Holloway and Co-investigator of Project Blood Bricks. A researcher of Cambodian livelihoods since 2008, Laurie Parsons's work investigates the impact of mass labour migration and ecological change on socio-economic inequalities. It combines a variety of approaches - including visual and statistical analysis of social networks, and qualitative methods - to discern how norms and social structures both reflect and mediate these new conditions. He has conducted large-scale projects examining Cambodia’s uneven economic development for Transparency International, Plan International, Save the Children, CARE International, ActionAid, the IDRC and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, among others


PANEL THREE Modern slavery and current and emerging agendas

Andreas Chatzidakis and Deirdre Shaw

Modern Day Slavery: Consumer Perspectives’

It is estimated that up to 1,243,400 people are modern slaves across Europe, working in industries such as domestic work, agriculture, restaurants/food service, and the sex trade. Within the UK, both academic (e.g., Crane, 2013; Skinner, 2008) and practitioner understandings of modern slavery have been increasingly nuanced, particularly after the introduction of the “Modern Slavery Act”. There is, however, a surprising lack of research on the consumer, despite the fact that raising consumer awareness is recognised as key in the battle for the abolition of modern slavery (Bales, 2012; van den Ander, 2004) and modern slavery is having devastating environmental impacts (Bales, 2016). In this research, we explore a number of key questions in relation to consumer perspectives, including: What do consumers understand as modern slavery? How do consumers understand vulnerabilities in modern day slavery? And how do consumers cope with the negative social and environmental consequences of modern slavery? We conducted in-depth interviews with 30 informants in 3 UK cities over two phases of research. Our analysis exposes two pivot points at the core of consumer obliviousness and the representation of categories of modern slaves. First, consumer judgements of vulnerability drive representations of authenticity in claims to slavehood; with enslaved animals sometimes being rated more highly than adult human slaves. Other environmental concerns were rarely mentioned. Second, perceptions of the locus of responsibility—internal or external—underpin consumers’ emotive responses and willingness to act.

Andreas is a Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway University of London, which he joined in 2007, after completing his PhD at University of Nottingham. His doctoral research was focused on social psychological and attitudinal models of consumers’ “ethical” choices such as buying Fair Trade products and recycling. Since then he has became more broadly interested on the intersection of consumption with ethics and politics drawing from diverse disciplines such as sociology, human geography, gender studies and psychoanalysis.

Deirdre is Professor Marketing and Consumer Research at University of Glasgow. Deirdre has researched the area of consumption ethics throughout her career, publishing on the subject in a range of international journals (including Psychology and Marketing, Journal of Business Ethics, European Journal of Marketing, Business History, Journal of Marketing Management, Sustainable Development), contributing to books and non-academic publications, giving invited talks and supervising PhD researchers in this area.

Steve Trent

'Pirates and Slaves - Forced, Bonded and Slave Labour in the Seafood Sector'

Findings will be presented from EJF investigations on land and at sea in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea that exposed systematic use of slavery in the Thai seafood sector. A short 5 minute film will be shown made by EJF and highlighting the abuses they uncovered. 

Steve Trent has over 25 years experience in environmental and human rights campaigning, creating effective advocacy and communications campaigns and field projects, as well as leading investigations in over 40 countries. He is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) Steve also co-founded WildAid, serving as President for over a decade, and leading WildAid’s work in China and India. Prior to this Steve was the Campaigns Director at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).