A destroyed environment is often the perfect environment for modern-day slavery
Environment is often brought up at conferences and in documentaries about human trafficking, but (and especially in the United States) it’s nearly always used synonymously with “factors” or “conditions” that may give rise to the crime. Sustainability is discussed as well, but it’s always in the context of creating lost-lasting jobs to help break the chains of the poverty that increases a person’s susceptibility to being trafficked. Recycled and reusable are terms used to describe how, unlike in the drug trade, the same human being can be sold repeatedly. In the United States the language of environmentalism is constantly used when it comes to human trafficking, but rarely in the context of the actual physical environment. It’s time for this to change.
For the majority of the world – from poor farmers and fisherman whose families have for centuries survived due purely to their hypersensitivity to their environment, to elite scientists spanning nearly every discipline – climate change and the knowledge that much of it is man-made is understood with the same certainty as gravity.
While standing in the flooded floors of thatched-roof huts in Bangladesh, for example, I’ve listened as parents who didn’t even have the money to add vegetables to their once-daily rice rations talked adamantly to their children about how climate change and environmental disasters increase the likelihood that someone comes to try to take them or that they themselves may be more willing to take a risk and trust someone promising a job outside of the impacted area. Young Power in Social Action, the premier social development organization in Chittagong and perhaps throughout the entire country, views climate change and situations within the physical environment as perhaps the greatest risk factor in regards to human trafficking. Yet in the US climate change is still somehow so controversial that it was termed The Great Unmentionable during the 2012 presidential campaigns. We aren’t even to the point of being able to talk about climate change, let alone its impact on human trafficking, a crime that President Obama has called “one of the great human rights causes of our time.”
A natural disaster or an otherwise unpredictable environmental event can in an instant displace or otherwise make vulnerable not only a community, but millions of people. Entire countries. While it’s wrong to attribute every such event to something man-made, it’s equally wrong to overlook the many links between the environment, the climate and the crime. Vulnerable means not just to starvation and poverty, dengue or malaria, but to exploitation by other human beings. In a recent piece for The Washington Times titled, “Natural disaster throws children into the arms of pedophiles,” Jerome Elam explored one such linkage:
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake had arisen from the floor of the Indian Ocean to trigger one of the most devastating natural disasters in recorded history. The impact of the Tsunami took an incredible toll on human life.
Beneath this human tragedy, an even more horrifying tragedy lurked within the shadows. As relief workers and supplies began to flow into the torn and ravaged countryside, customs officials made a shocking discovery. Twenty pedophiles were apprehended as they attempted to board a plane. Their destination included the countries of Indonesia and Thailand where sick and injured children wandered alone and separated from their families. Nature had created a paradise for child molesters whose only intention was to target young children for fulfillment of their deepest perversion while shrouded by the chaos around them.
In Linking Human Rights and the Environment, Romina Picollotti writes:
Today more than ever, society has come to recognize that the anthropogenic destruction of our planet’s sustainable biodiversity negatively impacts humankind, placing human life at risk. The cause-and effect relationship that exists between environmental collapse and the subsequent risk to our existence can no longer be ignored.
We are perhaps more trained to see the links between disease and enviro-economic conditions – see Gold boom challenging anti-malaria fight, for one recent example – but as the fight against human trafficking continues to grow I am asking everyone involved in the fight to thoroughly research and begin to accept that (1) climate change does exist and that (2) our physical environment provides perhaps just as much fuel for human trafficking to grow as any other risk factor. We accept and talk at great length about how the economy is directly linked to human trafficking, but perhaps we are missing the cause prior: the environment that enables or disables the working of an economy in the first place.
Economic growth may be slower if we take the environment into account, but it will no doubt be more sustainable and in this sustainability will undoubtedly be human safety. There’s much truth and application in environmental activist Guy McPherson‘s quote:
“If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while counting your money.”
—Photo: Julio Cortez/AP