Climate change is real, despite resistance from many to accept this fact. For this very reason, many environmentalists have little hope that summits like the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland will yield any concrete solutions. In India, the section of society that is most affected by the effects of climate change, are the farmers.  Kheyti is an organization in India that has developed “greenhouse-in-a-box” – an affordable, modular greenhouse bundled with full stack services that uses 90% less water, grows 7 times more food and gives farmers a steady dependable income. According to Kheyti, India has 120 million farmers, and even more people who  are dependent on agriculture and farming for a livelihood. Agriculture is affected by rising temperatures that cause drought and water scarcity, and unseasonal rains and cyclones that cause floods, cloudbursts, landslides and severe crop damage. In 2021, Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare reports over 5 million hectares of agricultural area was affected due to heavy rains this year. Not only are crops destroyed, but rising temperatures make them more vulnerable to disease and pests.

Photo by YODA Adaman on Unsplash

India is largely dependent on the monsoons for its annual rainfall. But the monsoons have been unpredictable in the last few years. This year saw the late withdrawal of the southwest monsoon and the improper formation of the northeast monsoon, resulting in unpredictable weather systems and unseasonal heavy rainfall and floods in certain parts of the country, resulting in major crop damage. When their crops fail, farmers become hopeless and desperate, and some choose to move away from farming and explore alternate sources of income, often migrating from rural to urban areas and cities for work. They become easy targets for human trafficking and forced labour due to their vulnerability and limited skills, having lived and worked mostly in the agricultural regions. Mass migrations result in broken families, very often mothers who move to cities for work must leave their children with grandparents or other relatives in their villages and hometowns. Men and women who come to the cities seeking jobs are often misled by unscrupulous agents and forced into hard labour, with little or no income to send to their families back home. Some are forced into the sex work industry or become bonded labourers, losing their freedom and sense of dignity, with no one to turn to for help. Women who move from rural areas to the cities to work as housemaids are often not allowed to return to their villages for years, until their employers grant them a leave of absence. They often work under appalling conditions and are only fed one meal a day.

According to the World Migration Report 2022, published every second year by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of the UN, more people are being displaced by disasters — caused by the changing climate — than conflicts, reversing a historical trend. The numbers remained high despite travel restrictions due to Covid 19 outbreaks. DownToEarth reports that most of the new displacement is due to climate related events: displacements due to storms – 14.6 million; displacements due to floods – 14.1 million; displacements due to extreme temperatures – 46,000; displacements due to droughts – 32,000, in 2020.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The numbers are alarming, and there is an immediate need for world leaders to address the issue of climate induced migration, to curb modern slavery and protect these vulnerable sections of society from further harm. It is truly a humanitarian crisis when people affected by climate change and natural disasters are rendered homeless and forced to migrate for survival, only to find they are exploited in locations they sought refuge. At the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it was acknowledged that “climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage”. What are developed and developing nations doing about it, remains a question. A recent report by the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), showed that the international community has not yet succeeded in implementing the principles of the UN Global Compact to the extent needed.  David Miliband, International Rescue Committee (IRC) President and CEO summed up the issue:

The report findings confirm that refugee assistance and global resettlement targets are woefully insufficient, neither addressing the unprecedented level of protection needs, nor demonstrating solidarity with the countries that host the vast majority of the world’s refugees. As a priority, governments should increase their funding for refugees and set bold, ambitious resettlement targets for 2022 to provide a lifeline to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash

The only long-term solution is to combat climate change in order to avoid degradation of the land and mass displacement of affected populations. Unfortunately, climate change denial continues, often by parties who have a vested interest in the economies that contribute to climate change. There is an avoidance of acceptance of climate change during a time where only hope for humanity is to make everyone, without exception, a part of the effort to save our environment. It is a change in mindset, and a change in lifestyle. There is enough evidence to show that climate change is one of the major reasons for mass migration. It doesn’t seem farfetched that people affected by climate change would choose to migrate to a different state or city. In the most extreme of circumstances, researchers are contemplating the idea of humans inhabiting the moon or other planets when the earth becomes uninhabitable.

Migrants are most vulnerable to modern slavery and human trafficking, given their socio-economic conditions, and the loss of their livelihood and homes, and the most at-risk of climate change impacts. The question that society needs to ask itself, is what can be done before it is too late?

To learn more about the relation between climate change and modern slavery, register for our free webinar on January 28th at 17:00 GMT+08. Our expert panel will discuss case studies of modern slavery driven by climate change, with practical discussions on the role that business can play in addressing two of the most pressing issues of our time.

Author: Annabel Bantleman