Modern slavery and climate change have emerged as concurrent crises in the contemporary world. While these phenomena have been well-established separately in recent academic and policy-based debates, little discussion has taken place on the interconnections between them. An emerging area of research has begun to interrogate aspects of the nexus between modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change, but a review of the existing literature in the area remains lacking.
As a result, this desk-based literature review was conducted on the nexus between modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change that covered both academic and grey literature. The report aims to synthesise, review and assess the current state of research on the nexus and bring together previously disparate literature as part of a holistic framework. Such a review can offer insight into existing trends in the extant literature and highlight potential future research directions: timely and urgent in light of the relevant Sustainable Development Goals.
The review is based upon a conceptualisation of a cyclical, two-way nexus between modern slavery, climate change and environmental destruction. Here, on the one hand, it is proposed that modern slavery practices contribute to further multiscalar environmental destruction and perpetuate climate change, while, on the other hand, the increasing environmental pressures associated with climate change in the Global South (e.g. rising sea levels, increasing prevalence and severity of droughts) act to exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and inequalities of local populations that may render them susceptible to exploitative labour practices.
Overall, the review identified commonalities across the examined literature, despite the multiple scales and geographies at which the research has been carried out.
The nexus tends to emerge in the literature through forms of debt-bondage, illegal or informal channels of labour and the persistent and continued interests of consumers in the Global North. The nexus also emerged in the literature sectorally and in relation to specific geographic locations and the review was accordingly structured around four main sectors:
Despite the sectoral form of the literature, the review suggests commonalities across geographic spaces as part of a two- way conceptualisation of the nexus that goes beyond the sectoral. Additionally, specific instances of the nexus are often systematically and geographically bound together, often intimately connected with flows of (climate-induced) migration.
This synthesis and assessment of extant literature on the relationship between modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change acts as a starting point for research on the nexus. It can also open up space for dialogue and communication between practitioners, research clusters and policy bodies (e.g. NGOs, intergovernmental agencies) that have previously remained separate, as well engendering a movement beyond silos of knowledge and policy practices.
Read full report here.