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Integrating policies addressing modern slavery and climate change

Research report on integrating policies addressing modern slavery and climate change

Published: 6th February 2024

This is a summary of the report entitled: Integrating policies addressing modern slavery and climate change, based on research conducted by the Rights Lab and School of Geography (University of Nottingham) in partnership with Transparentem and International Justice Mission (IJM) UK.

Authors: Dr Bethany Jackson, Esther Weir, Vicky Brotherton, Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham; Jonathan Mead, Anthony DiPreta, Mia Tucker, Peter Bengtsen, Transparentem; Mary Sebastian, International Justice Mission UK; Kimberley Hutchison, Jolaade Olatunbosun, independent consultants, Professor Doreen S. Boyd, School of Geography and Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham and Dr Meghan Alexander, School of Geography University of Nottingham.


Modern slavery and climate change are interconnected. For example, climate change can increase vulnerabilities to modern slavery through the occurrence of changing environmental conditions and slow-onset events (such as drought), or rapid-onset events, both of which can cause climate-induced displacement or longer-term migration and heighten vulnerabilities that can be exploited (both in home and receiving countries).

In response to changing environmental conditions, people may be forced to enter exploitative situations or engage in exploitative activities to provide alternative livelihoods and survive. In this regard, climate change can exacerbate pre-existing risk factors for modern slavery and disproportionally affect certain groups, notably women and girls.

However, climate change action may also be a driving factor. For instance, planned relocations of communities as part of adaptive, risk management approaches can also create or exacerbate vulnerabilities to modern slavery, particularly if rights and livelihood opportunities are limited in receiving locations.

Likewise, the ‘race to net zero’ could prompt new businesses to engage in modern slavery and human rights abuses through more socially considered investment and more conscious efforts to engage in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) mechanisms, while the loss of certain industries could create new vulnerabilities in the absence of just transitions.

The intersections and cascading risks that exist between climate change and modern slavery make it paramount that the two agendas be addressed together; yet to date, these issues have largely been treated as policy silos. This summary report examines the policy intersections and opportunities for strengthening alignment between modern slavery and climate change through UK policies and devolved administrations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Key Findings

1. Policymakers working on modern slavery and climate change work in isolation (policy silos) from each other, meaning that ensuing policies aren’t integrated. There is a disconnect of scale of the two issues meaning that activities to combine addressing modern slavery and climate change are further ahead in the anti-slavery sector than the climate change space.

2. The research found perceived and real barriers to integrating policies on modern slavery and climate change, linked to resource and capacity strain. The research community should work to support policymakers to strengthen the evidence on benefits of climate change and modern slavery policy integration and provide tangible guidance and recommendations for the development of new integration streams, such as combining Directorate scopes, development of joint-legislation, and networking between policy experts in both areas.

3. Domestic and international legislative development, utilising current policies and legislation as a baseline to develop combined policies in addressing modern slavery and climate change. For example, the inclusion of decent work within Scotland and Northern Ireland’s climate change policies demonstrate that integrated legislation can be made.

4. The methods we have deployed in this study have enabled mainstreaming and connections to be actively made between previously isolated departments through the interviews conducted, and the linking of climate change and modern slavery as interconnected issues. Promoting these connections can work as a catalyst for more integrated cross-departmental collaboration.


The research calls for the Government to develop a strategy to integrate these two policy areas to ensure effective policy making. The recommendations target governance, knowledge exchange, capacity building and finance, and support services including lived experience inclusion.