open letter to Rt Hon Alok Sharma

How the Glasgow climate conference can address modern slavery - letter to Alok Sharma signed by leaders in the anti-slavery sector

How can COP26 address modern slavery and climate change?

Dear President Delegate, Rt Hon Alok Sharma

The world is experiencing climate breakdown and an era where the provision of human rights and dignity is stalling. Something is broken and the status quo will not fix it.

This is the decade in which we must both collectively limit climate change and make our societies more equal and just. Otherwise, we will emerge from the global pandemic locked into a climate and poverty emergency in which already marginalised people become exploited though forced labour, child slavery and forced marriage, and human trafficking.

COP26 must deliver on the vision of a global, just and transformational recovery that integrates, defends and expands human rights; and reduces inequality by prioritising the needs of the most affected, marginalised and discriminated people.

COP26 is also an important test of the Paris Agreement and an opportunity for governments of the world to raise their ambition in response to the climate crisis.

Our recommendations for COP26 are that governments should:

  • Recognise the link between climate-induced migration and modern slavery and include it as an action in climate targets and create provision in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for migration and modern slavery related responses.
  • Include and track the progress of climate-induced migration/displacement and anti-slavery actions in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans through Adaptation Committees.
  • Consider the need to address climate-induced risks of modern slavery in the Warsaw International Mechanism Task Force on Displacement (WIM TFD) recommendations to avert, minimise and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.
  • Use the opportunity of a Just Transition to sustainable renewable energy to provide decent work for all workers in the renewable energy sector, and tackle instances where forced labour is used in mineral extraction and manufacture of solar panels and renewable energy supply chains.

Evidence shows that climate change impacts are already increasing vulnerability to modern slavery. While several overlapping socio-economic, political, cultural and institutional risks shape vulnerability, they are increasingly evidenced to be made worse by climate change impacts and environmental degradation.

Forced labour is also often found in climate destructive industries. In many parts of the world, development models based on resource extraction and export-oriented agribusiness are worsening vulnerability to exploitation and modern slavery by monopolising land and resources, polluting the soil, air and water, destroying ecosystems, and driving displacement.

In addition, low-income countries are exposed to some of the most severe climate impacts, and have the least capacity to adapt and find it hardest to recover from the loss and damage caused by devastating floods, droughts, heatwaves, cyclones, and rising sea levels.

In many cases these conditions lead to people being forced to migrate and leave the lands or the jobs that can no longer provide them with a living. In an increasing number of cases this makes them open to exploitation, trafficking and modern slavery. The World Bank predicts that as many as 143 million people will migrate within their own borders in just three regions of the world by 2050 unless action is taken to address climate change. 30.1 million weather-related displacements took place in 2020, including 9.8 million affecting children according to IDMC and UNICEF UK.

An integrated social, economic, and environmental response is needed that builds the resilience of vulnerable populations to climate impacts and modern slavery together.

Yours sincerely,

Jasmine O’Connor OBE, CEO, Anti-Slavery International

Nick Grono, CEO, The Freedom Fund

Philippe Sion, Managing Director, Humanity United

Kristen Abrams, Senior Director, Combatting Human Trafficking, The McCain Institute

Alex Their, CEO, Global Fund to End Modern Slavery

Mohamad Abdi, National Coordinator, Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia

Steven Trent, CEO/Founder, Environmental Justice Foundation

Joanna Ewart-James, Executive Director, Freedom United

Zelda Keller, Executive Director, The Institute for Climate and Peace

Yuka Iwatsuki, President and Co-Founder, Action Against Child Exploitation

Olga Martin-Ortega, Leader, Business, Human Rights and Environment Research Group

Aloysius Arockiam, Director, SAVE – Social Awareness and Voluntary Education – India

Carolina Rudnick, President, Fundación Libera contra la Trata
de Personas y la Esclavitud en Todas sus Formas – Chile

Rosie Riley, Founder and CEO, GP Registrar, VITA Network, VITA Training Ltd

Laura Wood, Research Director, Pediatrician, VITA Network, VITA Training Ltd

Sarah Boutros, Pediatric Registrar, VITA Network, VITA Training Ltd

Jordan Lin, Blog Coordinator, VITA Network, VITA Training Ltd

Ishaan Shah, Founder, Stolen Dreams

Saphia Fleury, Researcher, University of Hull

Sneh Aurora, Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Colleen Theron, CEO, Ardea International 

David Westlake, CEO, International Justice Mission UK

David Hillman, Director, Stamp Out Poverty

Charlotte Kennedy, Head of Campaigns and Communications, Robin Hood Tax

Dominique Muller, Policy Director, Labour Behind the Label

Mike Dottridge, Expert on human trafficking, Former trustee of UN Fund on contemporary forms of slavery

Andrew Wallis OBE, CEO, Unseen

Christian Guy, CEO, Justice and Care

Stephen McCloskey, CEO, Centre for Global Education

Rachel Phillips Rigby, Human Rights Lead, Rainforest Alliance

Donna Robinson, Attorney, Robinson Law Office, LLC

Terry Collingsworth, Executive Director, IRAdvocates

Caroline Downey, Executive Director, Women Working Worldwide

Habte Hagos, Chairman, Eritrea Focus

Mark Dearn, Director, Corporate Justice Coalition

Shakirul Islam, Chairperson, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program
(OKUP) – Bangladesh

James Kofi Annan, President, Challenging Heights

Enock Dery Pufaa, Senior Manager, Impact, Challenging Heights

Peter McAllister, Executive Director, Ethical Trading Initiative

Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming

Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana, Managing Attorney, Women’s Link Worldwide

Hideki Wakabayashi, Executive Director, JANIC

Shom Luitel, Advisor, People Forum for Human rights

Dr Carole Murphy and Dr Ruth Van Dyke, Co-Directors, Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse, St Mary’s University

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC)

Dr Chris O’Connell, Researcher, Dublin City University

Dr Caitríona Ní Cassaithe, Lecturer, Dublin City University

Tim Nelson, CEO, Hope for Justice and Slave Free Alliance

Victoria Marks, Director, Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit

Kate Garbers, Modern Slavery Consultant, Independent

Xavier Plassat, Coordinator of CPT’s, Pastoral Land Commission (CPT, Brazil)

Pablo Iturralde, Executive Director, Centro de Derechos Económicos Sociales y Culturales del Ecuador

Akiko Sato Deputy, Secretary General, Human Rights Now

Julia de Boinville, Co-founder, The Anti-Slavery Collective

Isabella Clarke-Price, Associate Director, The Anti-Slavery Collective

Minh Dang, Executive Director, Survivor Alliance

Laura Murphy, Professor, Helena Kennedy Centre, Sheffield
Hallam University 

Carry Somers, Co-founder and Global Operations Director, Fashion Revolution 

Leonardo Sakamoto, President Director, Repórter Brasil

Miguel Gonzales G., Director Ejecutivo, INFANTE-Promoción Integral de la Mujer y la Infancia 

Charity Ryerson, Executive Director, Corporate Accountability Lab

Katherine Mulhern, CEO, Restitution 

Karen Snyder, Anti-human trafficking evaluator and researcher, Independent consultant 

Mireille Kayijamahe, Director of Development, Well Grounded 

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.