Climate-induced migration and vulnerability to modern slavery

IIED and Anti-Slavery International are exploring how climate-driven migration and displacement puts people at an increased risk of trafficking and slavery. The research will inform policy recommendations.

2020 - ongoing
Ritu Bharadwaj

Principal researcher (climate governance and finance team), Climate Change

Climate-resilient development
A programme of work showing how IIED is supporting governments, civil society and communities to achieve climate-resilient development outcomes for the most vulnerable people
Pick-up van packed with people and suitcases.

Workers from Myanmar wait to cross the border at border with Thailand in 2020. Climate change puts displaced people at a higher risk of trafficking, but more research is needed to understand this relationship (Photo: Prachatai via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

According to the Global Estimate of Modern Slavery, 40.3 million people are living in slavery worldwide, 71% of whom were female. Nearly three out of every four women and girls trafficked were done for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Another alarming finding is that children represent 21% of the victims of forced sexual exploitation and 18% of those subjected to forced labour exploitation.

Although there is a growing literature on the factors that shape vulnerability to modern slavery, such as poverty and lack of economic opportunity, the evidence on what enables these factors to exist has been less clearly explored. 

In particular, the extent to which climate change is playing a role in driving vulnerability to modern slavery, for example by deepening poverty and the food and livelihoods insecurity of highly vulnerable households, has not been examined in great detail.

A better understanding of the relationship between climate change and vulnerabilities to modern slavery can provide valuable insights into how governments, donors and civil society organisations can design development and climate interventions more effectively to reduce the modern slavery risks of women, girls, men and boys.  

What is IIED doing? 

IIED is addressing this knowledge gap with support from partners Anti-Slavery International (ASI) and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)

The research-based project aims to examine the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on deepening inequality, driving migration and creating vulnerability to modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour within borders and cross border.

Different climate risks heighten the risk of slavery, trafficking and exploitation in migrant populations in different ways, where slow onset events such as drought may lead to distress migration, but sudden onset events such as floods or cyclone may lead to displacement. The research will explore how different pathways of climate-induced migration and displacement increase the vulnerability to slavery.

We will develop specific recommendations for policymakers at an international level for the UNFCCC, World BankInternational Organization for Migration (IOM)International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as at regional and national level. 

Recommendations will include making climate finance for adaptation, resilience and loss and damage available to tackle vulnerability to modern slavery.

The project will also advise and support countries to build responses to end modern slavery into their migration response plans and national development plans, as well as into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to meet the Paris Agreement.