This year’s TIP Report highlights the looming threat of climate change and its links to vulnerability to human trafficking. It argues that climate change-related disasters disproportionately impact women and children, Indigenous communities, minorities, and displaced people and that as environmental conditions get worse, more people will be impacted. It says, “The UN Environment Programme indicates that human trafficking has the potential to increase by 20-30 percent during humanitarian disasters due to lost livelihoods and disrupted families.”
Furthermore, people displaced due to climate change generally have very little in the way of legal protection, exacerbating their vulnerability to traffickers. Many often lack proper identity documents, which makes them easier to exploit.
Women and children are particularly vulnerable. According to the report, “The International Labour Organization has reported that economic and food insecurity are directly linked to an increase of both forced child labor and child sex trafficking. Experts are concerned that rising temperatures will exacerbate women’s and children’s vulnerability to human trafficking. As a result of high youth populations and labor-heavy industries like agriculture, domestic services, and manufacturing, children and youth in climate-vulnerable countries are often forced to work in dangerous, vulnerable, or isolated situations. With limited options for work, women and children become more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and familial trafficking.” The report also goes on to state that “the NGO Malala Fund found that four million girls in low and lower-middle income countries will be prevented from completing their education due to climate change and, consequently, will be more vulnerable to exploitation.”
We See This Already In Our Own Work
The threat of climate change is no longer a future event–our own communities have already been impacted when, in 2018, an extreme flood event hit a Hmong village in the Nan Province of northern Thailand in the nighttime and villagers woke up to find their houses floating toward the river. It is projected that climate-related disasters will prompt mass migration across Asia over the coming decades.
While climate change is widely recognized as a threat to people, increasing vulnerability to trafficking, in our experience, relatively few anti-trafficking organizations address the issue head-on–likely because it seems beyond the scope of their capabilities, especially those that must focus limited resources on those who are already victims of trafficking.
We have our sustainability programs that proactively seek to help vulnerable families, and there are larger organizations like Winrock International that devote resources and attention to supporting and protecting vulnerable migrants, to preventing labor exploitation, and to projects that mitigate climate change. While governments obviously have many more tools at their disposal to confront climate change, there is still a role to play for NGOs and civil society organizations–even ones that are focused on human trafficking.
What Can Anti-Trafficking NGOs Do About Climate Change?
The first major step for anti-trafficking organizations is to see common cause with environmental organizations. It would be beneficial for anti-trafficking organizations to maintain access to expertise regarding climate change, especially projections about what is likely to happen, who is most likely to be impacted, and in what ways. Keeping tabs on this expertise can help guide NGOs in developing proactive and effective solutions.
NGOs can also try to seek out and elevate the experiences of trafficking survivors whose trafficking experience was related to climate change. They would be best placed to advise on what those most vulnerable to trafficking or those who’ve been trafficked would most need in terms of support.
NGOs that are in a position to advocate for policy changes could also help push for legal protections for climate refugees to make it easier for displaced people to access help and support. These protections would be instrumental in providing humanitarian assistance and recourse against human rights abuses.
Increasingly, the problems we face as a global society are not separate issues. Climate change, immigration policy, racial and ethnic discrimination, urban fragility or resilience, energy policy, economic policy, national security, and crime…these things impact each other. The more we can think holistically about how they interrelate, the better solutions we can find to confront them.