Climate-induced migration and modern slavery: a toolkit for policymakers – World – ReliefWeb

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Ritu Bharadwaj, Danielle Bishop, Somnath Hazra, Enock Pufaa, James Kofi Annan
Executive summary
Contemporary forms of slavery are often categorised as slavery, slavery-like practices, bonded labour, debt bondage and forced sexual exploitation. These are all interrelated and constitute a continuum.1 According to the Global Estimate of Modern Slavery,2 40.3 million people are living in slavery worldwide, which disproportionately affects the most marginalised, such as women, children and minorities.3 Climate change and climate-induced migration heightens existing vulnerabilities of slavery. Drivers of vulnerability to modern slavery are complex and impacted by many layers of risk. While several socio-economic, political, cultural and institutional risks shape vulnerability, they are increasingly considered to be made worse by climate change impacts and environmental degradation.
Climate-induced displacements are becoming unavoidable. The rise of sea levels, salination and flooding are already forcing entire coastal communities – in countries such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Sierra Leone – to relocate. And as climate shocks are set to intensify, many more millions will be displaced by climate change in the coming decades. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 climate change will force more than 143 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America from their homes.
Climate change policies increasingly recognise climate-induced migration and displacement as an issue. The Cancún Adaptation Framework (CAF), adopted during COP16 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010, provides a conceptual framework to navigate the complexities of climate mobility.
CAF recognises three modes of mobility due to climate impacts – migration, displacement and planned relocation4 – allowing for specific climate policies aligned with the distinct features, mobility patterns and outcomes of each impact.5 In 2015, the Paris Agreement on climate change was an unprecedented development of action on migration and climate with the formal inclusion of ‘migrants’ in its Preamble.6
There are three emerging pathways linking climate change, migration and modern slavery. According to the IOM, ‘Migrants are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery.’ Debates abound in and between academic and political circles on the degree to which climate change is influencing migration decision-making.
However, there is an emerging consensus that climate change influences migration and displacement pathways. Existing research and evidence indicate that the relation between climate change and/or climate-induced migration and severe forms of exploitation exists in at least three circumstances (pathways).7
• Sudden events in the aftermath of disasters The first pathway is the most well-documented and is extensively cited.8 Convincing evidence indicates that human trafficking increased in the aftermath of the Indonesian tsunami. In the wake of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, many survivors found themselves coerced, with no alternative, into working as prostitutes or labourers.9 In Bangladesh, women left widowed by cyclone Sidr were targeted by traffickers and driven into prostitution or hard labour. And, following annual flooding in Assam north-east India, women and girls are forced into child slavery or forced marriage to make ends meet.10
• Slow onset events/disasters The second pathway indicates that climate variability – such as increased temperature and erratic rainfall – often leads to drought, resulting in crop and pasture loss, drinking water shortage and food insecurity. Situations like these push communities dependent on natural resources and farming to look for alternate sources of living.11 In the absence of viable local options, their strategies may include pursuing dangerous or risky migration opportunities, incurring debt or both.12 Blood Bricks maps the intricate details of how farmers, whose livelihoods have been undermined by climate change in Cambodia, are forced in to intergenerational bondage by kiln factory owners who buy their debt and force them to work in sub-human conditions.13
• Slow onset events combined with conflict and forced displacement The final pathway indicates large-scale incremental forced displacement due to conflict triggered by slow onset natural disasters, such as drought and/or famine. While a direct correlation between climate change and conflict is yet to be established, it’s clear that countries experiencing conflict and high levels of insecurity are less able to cope with the adverse effects of climate shocks and environmental changes.14 As conflicts weaken existing institutions, markets and livelihood support systems, communities are left without the means to adapt or cope.15 The resulting income loss, displacement, higher levels of food insecurity and inflation force them to pursue risky coping strategies, often leading to debt bondage.16
Case studies in two global hotspots of modern slavery – the Sundarbans delta in India/ Bangladesh and Ghana in West Africa – provide evidence of a relationship between modern slavery and climate-induced displacement and migration. Both cases highlight that climate change has led to the degradation of the environment, increased economic uncertainty and food insecurity, to the detriment of the well-being of poor families, particularly women and children. Limited alternatives and resources for survival, and low resilience within households, have led to intra – and interstate migration across rural and urban areas, exposing those involved to slavery and slavery-like practices. In the Sundarbans, many who embark on the rural-urban migration pathway with no resources, skills or social networks at their destination, are targeted by agents and/or traffickers in Dhaka or Kolkata. In Ghana, young women and children are forced into situations of debt-bondage by agents who run kayayie (head-carrying manual labourers/porters).17
Recognising slavery as a mainstream policy issue alongside poverty and climate change will help to:
• Develop understanding of the underlying drivers that push disadvantaged communities into slavery.
• Identify risky migration pathways that lead to exploitative work situations.
• Identify gaps in existing climate and development policies that leave communities facing climate crises exposed to slavery.
A clearer understanding of these drivers, pathways and gaps can strengthen existing development and climate policies and programmes to support anti-slavery efforts.
Recommendations to address the connection between climate change, migration and modern slavery
• Incorporate slavery into climate and development planning Recognise and prioritise the connection between climate-induced migration and modern slavery. Policy responses should integrate actions into climate resilience plans, migration response plans and national development plans.
• Take action on displacement and risks of modern slavery Clear targets and actions need to be considered, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 which calls for effective measures to end forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking, and child labour in all its forms.
• Coordinate international efforts based on exiting initiatives A joined-up inclusive approach is needed – that complements and draws ongoing efforts of the UNFCCC Task Force on Displacement, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework, the Nansen Initiative on Displacement and the High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement – to increase understanding of, and response to, growing risks of climate-induced migration/displacement and exposure to modern slavery.
• Shape policy interventions based on local research and evidence Addressing the risks of slavery in the context of climate change, across the wide range of national and local contexts, requires the inclusion of affected communities in decisionmaking and openness to local forms of resilience and adaptation, using evidence gathered to inform international and national policies and practices.
• Integrate slavery issues in National Determined Contributions (NDC) and ensure climate finance commitments NDCs need to identify policies and actions for providing safe migration pathways and address vulnerability to slavery in the context of climate change. This should help to increase the demand for climate finance for adaptation, resilience, loss and damage in tackling trafficking and modern slavery. Convergence between existing development and climate finance should also be explored, to address the connection between climate-induced migration and slavery risks.
• Strengthen social safety nets for climate risk management The biggest shortcoming of anti-slavery initiatives is a lack of effort to address the root cause of the issue.18 While there is a recognition that factors such as poverty, uneven development and gender inequality shape vulnerability to slavery, effective social protection mechanisms that can help in addressing these issues (particularly in the face of climate or environmental crisis) are less than adequate. There is a need to consider vulnerability to slavery in the framing of social protection initiatives and climate risk management, and create a rights-based approach for providing access to basic services and social safety nets to all vulnerable households.
• Develop skills and create safe migration pathways There is a need to identify hotspots based on layering climate risks with socio-economic, political and institutional risks, and to identify the migration pathways pursued by vulnerable communities during climate crises. Such assessments should be used for developing skills, certification, rights awareness, placement and helpline services. Portable rights and entitlements, offered under development and social protection programmes, should ensure that migrants can access benefits such as insurance and health cover at their destination. Relevant labour laws will need to be strengthened and new legal frameworks will be required to protect vulnerable migrants from exploitative labour practices and provide safe working conditions at destination sites.
• Develop preventive measures and advance planning to relocate and resettle displaced communities Anticipatory action to move people to safety before disasters strike, including plans to relocate and resettle displaced communities, can help reduce exposure to slavery.
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