How Modern Slavery Impacts the Environment

There are 45 million enslaved people in the world today. The links between slavery, conflict, environmental destruction, economics and consumption began to strengthen and evolve in the 20th century. The availability of people who might be enslaved dramatically increased in line with population growth – and often, slaves are forced to do work that is highly destructive to the environment.

Kevin Bales, professor of contemporary slavery and research director of the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, discusses the large and negative environmental impact of modern slavery.

Slave-based activities like brick making and deforestation, are estimated to generate 2.54 billion tonnes of CO2 per year – greater than the individual emissions of all the world’s nations except China and the U.S. globally. This work feeds directly into global consumption in foodstuffs, minerals, construction materials, and clothing.

Most of this work is unregulated leading to extensive poisoning of watersheds, the clear-cutting of forests, and enormous and unregulated emissions of carcinogenic gases as well as CO2. Political corruption supports this slave-based environmental destruction and its human damage.

Kevin Bales, CMG, FRSA is Professor of Contemporary Slavery and Research Director of the Rights Lab, University of Nottingham and author of numerous books on modern day slavery. He co-founded the American NGO Free the Slaves, and his 1999 book “Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy” has been published in twelve languages. Desmond Tutu called it “a well researched, scholarly and deeply disturbing expose of modern slavery.” The film based on Disposable People, which he co-wrote, won the Peabody Award and two Emmys.

Watch How Modern Slavery Impacts the Environment with Kevin Bales.