Conference Report: Climate change is driving modern slavery

Saphia Fleury

PhD student, Falling Through the Net Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

S.Fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

The University of Hull is in a unique position to consider the effects of climate change as a driver of modern slavery, having two institutes dedicated to the study of these distinct but interconnected topics. On 11 October 2021 the Wilberforce Institute hosted a virtual conference to formulate an holistic approach to understanding this nexus. The event was supported by Anti-Slavery International and co-organised by Chris O’Connell of Dublin City University. Professor Trevor Burnard, the Wilberforce Institute’s director, welcomed the conference as ‘the start of several conversations about climate change and modern slavery’. Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute, a world-leader in researching sustainable solutions to climate change, was also represented at the event by its director, Dan Parsons. Professor Parsons noted how the UK in particular has a ‘moral responsibility to act’, given that as a country it has the fourth largest total historical cumulative CO2 emissions, and that much of the nation’s wealth has been built on a combination of slavery and high-emitting industrial practices.

Throughout the day, academics, practitioners and people with lived experiences of environmental change and slavery came together to share their research, practical solutions, and hopes for the future. Key-note speaker, the Bolivian Indigenous rights leader Wilma Mendoza Miro, described how various exploitative and ecologically damaging practices are encroaching on Indigenous lands. She concluded that a new approach to policy-making is urgently needed – one which puts human life, not wealth-creation, at the centre of decision-making.

Jasmine O’Connor OBE, the CEO of Anti-Slavery International, described how her organisation recognises the potential of climate change ‘to drive slavery on an unimaginable scale’. Anti-Slavery International is pushing for a just and fair transition to a carbon neutral world, which puts decent jobs at the heart of the transition.

Other participants described various exploitative labour contexts around the world, from highly polluting brick kilns in South Asia, to fishing off the coast of Ghana, to deforestation in Brazil. The theme of climate-induced migration and its risks came up numerous times. While slavery is often considered a problem of the past, and climate change a threat in the future, both issues are converging in the present day to create an ecological and human disaster.

The conference concluded with participants signing up to a letter directed at the President Delegate of the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow, highlighting the relationship between contemporary slavery, environmental destruction and climate change, and calling for a just transition.

The full report of the conference, including summaries of all the presentations and further discussion of the issues at stake, is now available as a free PDF here

Caption: Melbourne Global climate strike on Sep 20, 2019.


An Holistic Approach to Contemporary Slavery and Climate Change

Saphia Fleury,

PhD candidate, Falling Through the Net PhD Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

CALL FOR PAPERS: Wilberforce Institute Workshop, October 11, 2021.

Slavery is often considered to be a problem of the past, while climate change is seen as a threat to our future. Yet the two issues present a real threat in the here and now, and often interact with exploitative and dangerous consequences.

Climate change poses an immediate and existential threat to many of the most marginalised communities on the planet. All over the world, the impacts of this global emergency are being felt right now in the form of both sudden-onset disasters and slow-onset events. When combined with ongoing deforestation, pollution and resource scarcity, the impacts of these occurrences, which are making livelihoods ever more precarious for millions of people in the poorest countries, lead to increased levels of migration and displacement.

This situation has clear implications for development and human rights. In the words of former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, climate change is ‘likely to challenge or undermine the enjoyment of almost every human right in the international bill of rights’. Among the human rights issues that emerge most strongly are those linked to exploitation such as forced and unfree labour, human trafficking and slavery.

Meanwhile, research demonstrates that slavery in industries such as mining, fishing, brick-making and timber production can raise greenhouse gas emissions and drive other forms of environmental degradation. It has even been suggested that the climate crisis could be averted completely by putting an end to contemporary slavery.

Yet to date, the relationship between climate change and contemporary slavery has received relatively little attention in the policy, advocacy and academic fields. Furthermore, mainstream approaches to both issues have traditionally favoured technocratic or legalistic approaches that place these issues within ‘siloes’, disconnected from their political, social and economic contexts.

On Monday 11 October 2021, the Wilberforce Institute with support from Anti-Slavery International will host a one-day inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral workshop to break down these siloes and explore the relationship between these twin ills. Submissions are welcome from all sectors, including academics, activists, NGO practitioners, policy makers, journalists, PhD students, and others.

We welcome proposals relating to all aspects of these complex and wide-ranging issues, including intersecting or intervening themes such as: migration and displacement; conflict and insecurity; land, livelihoods and natural resources; ethnicity, gender and race; colonial and neo-colonial legacies.

We are interested in submissions that contribute to breaking new conceptual, methodological, and empirical ground in this topic area, and in particular those that advance novel recommendations for tackling these issues at the levels of policy and practice.

Abstracts for proposed papers or presentations (200-300 words) should be sent with a short bio to Dr Chris O’Connell, Dublin City University at christopher.oconnell@dcu.ie  and Saphia Fleury, Wilberforce Institute at s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

The deadline for submission is 30 June 2021. We aim to inform successful candidates by late August. There is no fee for attendance or participation in this event.

For any enquiries, please contact Chris O’Connell or Saphia Fleury.

Mural depicting the era of the rubber boom from an Indigenous perspective in the town of Nauta, Loreto Province, Peru (Photo: Chris O’Connell).

Conference proceedings

Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

e.a.faulkner@hull.ac.uk

In this blog Dr Elizabeth Faulkner returns to the conference she organized with Dr Laura Lammasniemi just over a year ago.

One Year On: Critical Perspectives on ‘Modern Slavery’: Law, Policy and Society, 30 October, 2019

On 30 October 2019, we welcomed speakers and attendees to the Wilberforce Institute conference ‘Critical Perspectives on “Modern Slavery”: Law, Policy and Society’. Organised collaboratively with Dr Laura Lammasniemi (University of Warwick), our one-day interdisciplinary conference aimed to explore the issue of ‘modern slavery’ through providing a platform to critique related legal, ideological, political and policy responses.

As a term ‘modern slavery’ serves as a powerful tool that invokes an extensive appeal to altruistic feeling, while simultaneously providing an expansive umbrella-like term for a range of exploitative practices.  The issues of human trafficking and ‘modern slavery’ have become one of great contemporary importance and in the past decades there has been a flurry of legal and policy responses to the issues at international and national level. Simultaneously, there has been vast amounts of scholarship on the topic, much of it critical of those responses, fiercely contesting the use of the term ‘slavery’ in this context. The conference generated an unprecedented amount of interest, and we were overwhelmed by the number of excellent abstract submissions. The conference featured five panels. Panel 1 critiqued the false virtue of ‘modern slavery’ law and policy, panel 2 addressed creative and alternative methodologies to the study of ‘modern slavery’, panel 3 incorporated historical and contemporary legal analysis of ‘modern slavery’, panel 4 looked at the institutional and corporate responses to ‘modern slavery’ and the final panel examined colonial and theoretical perspectives on ‘modern slavery’. We were happy to be able to deliver our vision of an interdisciplinary conference.

We were honoured to welcome Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson (University of Bristol), whose research has spearheaded the critical analysis of contemporary approaches to modern slavery and human trafficking, as one of our keynote speakers. Entitled ‘Learning from Histories of Marronage and Fugitivity’, within which she interrogated the mainstreaming of ‘modern slavery’ she advocated switching the point of comparison to histories of enslaved peoples’ efforts to extricate themselves from slavery and move closer to freedom. She highlighted the perspective of Douglass that the rights of locomotion/freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the human condition and essential to reform and progress. The second keynote was provided by Professor Jean Allain (Monash University & Wilberforce Institute) whose intricate analysis of the international laws of slavery shaped my own interest in the legal history of slavery.

The success of the conference was down to the great working relationship of the organisers, and made possible through support from the former Director of the Institute Professor John Oldfield who agreed to host the event,  and through securing external funding from the Modern Law Review and the Society of Legal Scholars. Moreover, I am indebted to my colleagues and our doctoral students who helped in the run up to and on the day of the conference. Thank you.

So what happens next? The point of this post is to look back and reflect upon the conference and provide an update of the project as it has moved on since the conclusion of the conference in 2019. I am in the process of collating an edited collection, which features some of the conference papers and incorporates chapters from invited academics, with the aim of creating an edited volume that addresses modern slavery through an interdisciplinary lens, grounded in contextualised studies from around the globe. The contributors are in the process of writing their draft chapters, and I am hopeful that the produced collection will surpass my expectations in a way that mirrors the success of the conference.