On September 12, a disturbing new report from the International Labor Organization (ILO), Walk Free and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed that the number of people in modern slavery has increased by around 10 million since 2016. Fifty million women, children and men are exploited through forms of slavery like forced labor and sex trafficking every day.
The report indicates that climate change is a significant factor contributing to the growing epidemic of slavery around the world.
In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that the greatest impact of climate change could be on human migration, with millions of people displaced by erosion, flooding and disruption of the system. eating. Today, World Bank forecasts warn of more than 200 million environmental migrants by 2050.
International Justice Mission (IJM), a global organization that protects people in poverty from violence, has seen this connection in South Asia where we are fighting forced labor slavery. Case data from the IJM indicated that 78% of rescued forced laborers were from areas where the impacts of climate change had endangered their basic livelihoods.
Additionally, IJM finds that in places where people profit from the enslavement and exploitation of human beings without the risk of legal sanction, the same offenders often also profit from the exploitation and destruction of human beings. natural environment without risk of punitive action. Slavery and environmental destruction thrive where criminal impunity prevails and where legal protection of people and the environment is lacking.
The IJM’s 25 years of experience fighting violent crime and a growing body of outside research tell a stark story about the connection between wanton environmental destruction and the exploitation of people.
The illegal logging industry in Brazil is a stark example of how ineffective regulations and lack of law enforcement drive the cycle of human exploitation and environmental degradation. On September 4, a Washington Post front-page report highlighted the failures of law enforcement and government intervention to address deforestation in the Amazon. On September 28, a report released by the Ministry of Labor found Brazilian wood among the list of goods produced with slave labor. And the State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, released in July, noted that while Brazilian authorities have made efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor, “the inadequate criminalization of these crimes has hampered efforts to fight against labor trafficking”.
The IJM has found similar failures of law enforcement in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia, where forced labor and illegal overfishing are rampant. In West Africa’s palm oil and cocoa industries, the scourge of forced labor and illegal logging also thrives in the absence of meaningful criminal penalties. Modern slavery and environmental destruction remain largely risk-free endeavors for offenders, who make a lot of money through exploitative practices.
At the same time, we now know what stops this high-profit, low-risk exploitation. In several projects around the world, the IJM has worked with local authorities to strengthen justice systems so they better protect their most vulnerable citizens – and the data is clear. Potential criminals are decisively deterred if there is a real threat of going to jail for operating these exploitative businesses. This deterrence is not only a sign of an effective justice system, but it is also the heart of the IJM model. We have seen it prove effective in reducing illegal logging by up to 86% in several jurisdictions around the world.
It has always made sense that slavery and environmental destruction would thrive if there were massive profits to be made with virtually no risk of punishment. And now, for slavery, we have evidence to the contrary – that slavery enterprises collapse when effective and sustained legal action is taken against the perpetrators. Likewise, we can expect illicit enterprises of environmental destruction to be greatly reduced when justice systems are finally strengthened to impose swift and reliable criminal penalties.
In both cases, for pragmatic and profit-oriented criminals, the decisive factor is not the mere existence of laws and regulations — whether the judicial system has the strength and the will to impose their. The exploiters of human beings and the environment always have their eyes on the risks of legal liability. Now is the time for those who want to end these crimes to develop the same disciplined focus.
Gary Haugen is the founder and CEO of International Justice Missiona global organization that partners with local authorities in 29 program offices in 17 countries to combat slavery, violence against women and children and other forms of abuse against poor people.
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