Climate change is one of the biggest and most discussed issues of our time. On the surface, it might not seem clear how or why climate change is connected with human trafficking and modern slavery. In this article, we will explain just how important those links are, and why we at Hope for Justice have to take seriously the issue of climate change as we seek to end human trafficking and help its victims and survivors.
Extreme weather and vulnerability
As extreme weather events rise in frequency and severity, people often face no choice other than to flee their homes in search of safety. Natural disasters like droughts, hurricanes, rising sea levels and wildfires are unfortunately becoming more common. Such events have devasting effects on communities: destroying homes, infrastructure, and livelihoods. People who lack access to food, water, housing, and healthcare become vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers, who prey on financial desperation. Such events can also lead to an increase in displacement and migration and the rise of refugee populations.
Displacement and migration
Refugees are people forced to leave their homes, usually because of persecution, conflict, or violence. However, increasingly displacement is being caused by climate change. The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, says that an average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related events since 2008, and the trend is worsening. Indeed, Ian Fry, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, says that the number of people internally displaced by climate-related disasters is “far higher than displacement due to armed conflict”.
Refugees and displaced populations are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to their precarity. Traffickers take advantage of their situations, through force, fraud or coercion. Such vulnerabilities can be exploited by traffickers, who may offer false promises of employment or the promise of safety, travel opportunities or employment in exchange for labour or abuses. More information on the link between refugees and human trafficking can be found here.
Agriculture and labour
Climate change can also have an impact on agriculture, making it more difficult for people to secure farmland, grow crops, and ultimately ensure their livelihood can be maintained. This can also result in poverty and unemployment, and dependence on “cheap labour”. Thus, there is an increased risk of exploitation where traffickers may manipulate people into forced labour and abusive working conditions. Children, for example, are regularly pushed into harsh and hazardous working conditions, such as within the fishing or mining industries.
Climate change induced conflict
Climate change is destroying natural resources. This is fostering conflict over land, water, minerals and crops, pulling in national and regional governments, businesses, and individual families. With increased violence and the threat of violence comes displacement, further heightening the refugee crisis. Again, this leaves people vulnerable to traffickers who can prey on those looking for safety and stability.
How you can help
The eradication of modern slavery would help climate change efforts and vice versa. There is a reinforcing loop that would aid both social causes.
Learning about these issues and raising awareness is the start of creating a long-lasting impact in the fight to end modern slavery and human trafficking for good.
For more information on this, please see our guide on How to be an Ethical Shopper.
- UNHCR: Climate change and disaster displacement (2023)
- IIED: Climate change, migration and vulnerability to trafficking (May 2022)
- Climate change threatens human rights, opens up governments, corporations to litigation: UN senior official (April 2023)
- Climate Refugees are Increasingly Victims of Exploitation (November 2021)
- Climate crisis leaving ‘millions at risk of trafficking and slavery’ (September 2021)
- How climate change impacts refugees and displaced communities (September 2021)
- World Economic Forum: How climate change exacerbates the refugee crisis – and what can be done about it (June 2019)
- The Surprising Link Between Climate Change and Human Trafficking (May 2018)