Climate change is a global crisis that requires urgent intervention. To combat it, we must address the drivers of climate change, as well as mitigating against vulnerabilities emerging from its impact.
One such vulnerability is modern slavery. It can be a driver of climate change and an outcome of a changing climate, as research has previously addressed (such as Jackson 2023; O’Connell 2021; Jackson et al. 2021). Yet only now is this starting to be addressed at international policy level.
Recently, the UK has faced criticism both for its response to climate change mitigation and for new immigration legislation, which undermines its once leading approach to tackling modern slavery. By addressing both pressing issues in tandem, the UK can and should engage in this emerging policy landscape.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham conducted a study in 2023 alongside partners Transparentem and International Justice Mission (IJM) UK, to understand the challenges and the extent to which modern slavery and climate change are addressed intersectionally, within the context of UK national and devolved (for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) governance mechanisms.
This project, funded by the Modern Slavery PEC, involved a three-pronged research approach: first assessing the current evidence on the intersections of modern slavery and climate change, and assessing the core recommendations produced. Second, through a review of domestic and international legislation to identify potential elements of good practice that could be applied in the UK to address modern slavery and climate change; and third, interviews with a series of policymakers, civil servants, ministers and parliamentarians across the UK, who also fed back on the recommendations emerging from the study findings, which were then reviewed and updated.
Here are the top four things we learned:
1. Climate change and modern slavery policymakers often work in isolation from one another, meaning integrated policies are difficult to establish.
2. Not only were different departments working in silos, but perceptions varied about the intersectionality of climate change and modern slavery, as well as the perceived scale of the issue: climate change being viewed as a pressing crisis affecting all, whereas modern slavery was seen as non-UK issue by some. It was clear from the research that policy makers focused on anti-slavery work were more developed in their combined consideration of risks of climate change and the impact on modern slavery and vice versa.
"Climate change and modern slavery policymakers often work in isolation from one another, meaning integrated policies are difficult to establish."
3. One of the positive areas of action is the leadership of devolved nations through the inclusion of ‘decent work’ as part of the just transition framework in both Scotland and Northern Ireland’s climate change legislation. This is an important step forward. We found a consensus opinion that while waiting for new legislation like the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), it would be useful to implement more localised and focused strategies on combined action in the interim. Suggestions included: setting up networks for policymakers in both the climate change and modern slavery fields, as well as between national and devolved departments working on these topics; and combining oversight on topics linked to modern slavery (such as migration and humanitarian responses) that have been associated with increased vulnerabilities following climate change-related events.
4. The research itself served as a catalyst for integrating work addressing climate change and modern slavery. Connections between previously isolated departments were made during the research interviews (some were held with individuals from different policy departments, with one hosting both climate change and modern slavery experts). The research has begun to open doors between silos and could be a catalyst for future integrated cross-departmental collaboration.
The findings culminated in a series of recommendations targeting governance, knowledge exchange, capacity building and finance, and support services including lived experience inclusion. In most cases, more efforts are required to support the development of integrated policy action around modern slavery and climate change; with a long-term strategy to then sustain such achievements. There is a clear willingness from policy makers across all parts of the UK system to begin linking the two agendas. It is with considerable hope that this enthusiasm continues, and that the UK can once again be considered a leader in addressing both modern slavery and climate change.