Climate change and modern slavery – how they are related

There's a powerful connection between climate change and modern slavery. Read these leading reports on climate-induced migration and human trafficking

flooded village in Bangladesh

Climate change affects us all. But experts in the anti-slavery sector fear that the impact of climate change on victims of modern slavery is not very well understood.  

As a result, in 2021, more than 50 organisations, including Unseen, wrote an open letter to the president of the Glasgow climate talks Alok Sharma. 

They asked that governments recognise the link between climate-induced migration and modern slavery.  

At Unseen HQ we’ve done some digging on the subject too. So if you want to know more about how the climate affects modern slavery, check out the following:  

Climate-induced migration and modern slavery – a toolkit for policymakers 

This report, by Anti-Slavery International and the Institute for Environment and Development, identifies climate change as a key force making vulnerable individuals affected by conflict or inequality more likely to become victims of modern slavery.

Climate change and modern slavery in public procurement 

This groundbreaking report reveals alarming gaps in ethical sourcing practices of public organisations – including schools, hospitals, and more. The research, led by a collaboration of leading universities alongside Unseen and London Universities Purchasing Consortia, exposes a critical lack of resources and legal mandate to effectively address modern slavery and climate risks within their operations and supply chains. 

This means everyday public purchases, from hospital equipment to food to school supplies, could inadvertently be linked to unethical practices and environmental harm.

Murky waters: a qualitative assessment of modern slavery in the pacific region 

This report, by the Walk Free Foundation, explains how displacement resulting from natural disasters and climate change spur vulnerability to modern slavery. 

Groundswell part 2: acting on internal climate migration 

While the above reports explain the links between migration and slavery, this World Bank report gives us the figures – warning that the number of people forcibly displaced by climate change and environmental degradation could reach 216 million by 2050. 

Modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change: fisheries, field, forests and factories 

This report is from the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, Royal Holloway University of London and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. It explains links between climate change and abuse in certain industries, for example in the Thai fishing industry. 

Says Royal Holloway’s Professor Katherine Brickell, co-author of the study: “We see this review as a starting point for more research into this area.

“Practitioners, NGOs, intergovernmental agencies and experts need to come together to gain a better understanding of the two-way relationship between modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change. Only then can we plan future interventions.”  


This is an updated version of an article first published in November 2021.

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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.