COP26:Modern Slavery and the Climate Crisis
By Sinead
November 10, 2021

The links between climate change and human displacement have never been clearer. Increased drought and lack of access to food and water are contributing to worsening food scarcity at a global level. Resultant civil unrest and mass displacement is expected to increase exponentially – to more than 1.2 billion people by 2050. In 2020, more people were displaced by extreme weather events than by conflict, with a record 55 million people forced to move due to climate disasters. 

Climate change-induced displacement and modern slavery

Displaced peoples are more at risk of forced labour, sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as victims are left vulnerable and open to exploitation. According to the UN 80% of those displaced are women and children. Indian youth climate activist Disha Ravi has highlighted how human trafficking worsens as people are displaced during heavy rains: “There’s an increase in sexual trafficking when floods hit. I would have not in my life thought that this would be seen as, like, an opportunity for sexual traffickers to traffick women. But people lose their homes, they lose their jobs, and they lose documentation. They lose life as they know it. They’re just struggling for money.” Women are also 14X more likely to die in natural disasters as they try to save their families lives read more information can be found here.

Green energy and modern slavery

But human exploitation is not seen solely on the front lines of climate change. As the world moves to cleaner energy, forced labour is a persistent issue across supply chains of renewables. Making green vehicles, panels, and turbines requires resources such as copper, lithium, and cobalt—which are extracted from the ground, primarily in the developing world. An Amnesty International report into cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo revealed widespread environmental destruction, human rights abuses and use of child labour. And nearly half the world’s supply of polysilicon, an important component used in solar panels, can be linked to modern slavery in china.

Can COP26 help?

A joint NGO letter to Alok Sharma last month articulated civil society demands to address climate change and modern slavery, including asks that governments:

  • create provision in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for migration and modern slavery related responses;
  • include and track the progress of climate-induced migration/displacement and antislavery actions in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans;
  • use the opportunity of a Just Transition to provide decent work for all workers in the renewable energy sector, and tackle forced labour in mineral extraction, manufacture of solar panels and renewable energy supply chains.

Underpinning the issue of climate-change related human trafficking and modern slavery is a wider issue – that Global North countries, who have effectively engineered this crisis at the expense of human rights and lives in the Global South, fail to recognise, value or include the voices of those most most affected by climate change. COP26 has been dubbed the “most exclusionary COP ever”, with climate justice, indigenous and womens rights organisations excluded at a rate that is “unprecedented and unjust”. MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas) groups have been actively obstructed from observing and participating in vital negotiations on carbon markets, loss and damage and climate financing. 

If climate change and related human trafficking, forced labour and sexual exploitation are to be stopped, we must make strong calls on our governments that corporations be held to account for human rights and environmental abuses in their supply chains. In multilateral governmental climate talks, respect for human rights and the inclusion of indigenous and MAPA voices in decision-making must be non-negotiable.