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Researchers funded to investigate links between the climate crisis and modern slavery

Modern Slavery PEC has funded three research projects investigating links between climate crisis and modern slavery.

Published: 6th June 2023

Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) has announced three new projects to explore and uncover links between the climate crisis and modern slavery globally.

The projects are designed to provide evidence and guidance to policymakers to ensure that robust legislation and policies are in place to meet the increasing intersection between these two major global challenges.

Specifically, researchers will examine:

  • Uyghur forced labour in the production of green technology, such as electric cars and solar panels - Anti-Slavery International, Sheffield Hallam University and Investor Alliance for Human Rights.
  • Climate impact on modern slavery risks in public sector procurement - University of Surrey, University of Bath, University of the West of England, Unseen UK and London Universities Purchasing Consortium.
  • Integrating policies addressing modern slavery and climate change in the UK and devolved administrations – University of Nottingham, Transparentem, and International Justice Mission (IJM UK).

As climate change increases in severity and extent, the vulnerability of populations already subject to economic and social exploitation increases, pushing people into more desperate situations to survive and provide for their families. The impact of extreme weather is likely to increase modern slavery among low-income communities in the Global South due to negative impacts on livelihoods, such as farmers and their families not being able to grow crops and therefore more vulnerable to being exploited in forced labour.

Other forms of exploitation linked to climate change include the production of solar panels and electric car parts, where documented human rights abuses of Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim peoples persist. A clearer understanding of how environmental damage and governmental responses to it are increasing human exploitation is crucial to creating robust laws and policies to protect both people and the planet.

Prof Alex Balch, Director of Research at Modern Slavery PEC said:

It’s incredibly important that we see climate change as an issue that directly affects and exacerbates modern slavery exploitation at an ever-increasing rate. We have funded these research projects so we can get ahead of the issue and inform policies that are more effective in mitigating both related global challenges”.

Chloe Cranston, Head of Thematic Advocacy Programmes at Anti-Slavery International, said:

We urgently need global collaboration to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, including through a rapid transition to clean energy technologies. However, for a truly just and resilient transition, renewable industries must not be reliant on systemic forced labour, as is currently the case in the growth of the solar and electric vehicle industries. This project on Uyghur forced labour seeks to tap into the leverage that the global investment community have, so that companies develop clean solar and electric vehicle supply chains – both environmentally and socially.”

Michael Rogerson, Lead Researcher and Lecturer, Department of Digital Economy, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation at the University of Surrey, said:

“The public sector spends tens of billions of pounds a year on goods and services, which offers an enormous potential for shaping social and environmental conditions in supply chains. We want to understand what influence public buyers are having, what best practice looks like, and how they can maximise their influence for better outcomes for people and the climate in supply chains.”

Bethany Jackson, Senior Research Fellow in Modern Slavery and Sustainable Ecosystems at the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, said:

“In order to address climate change, the effects of modern slavery must be accounted for. It is exciting to be leading a project addressing the potential for the UK Governments and devolved administrations to lead the world on this intersecting work following the global leadership provided by the Modern Slavery Act (2015), and the hosting of COP26 in Glasgow (2021) – and we aim to inform meaningful policy change to strengthen the UKs position as a leader in both fields.”

The research is funded by Modern Slavery PEC, which in turn is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). All projects involve partnerships between academic and non-academic researchers.

Please see below for details on each research project: