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This report from CAFOD, Caritas Bangladesh, OKUP, Caritas India and the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham shows how climate change-induced migration increases the risk of human trafficking and modern slavery.

It presents new evidence from the largest ever household survey in the southern border region of Bangladesh and India, highlighting the need to look at intersecting vulnerabilities and risks caused by climate change to ensure that climate response plans better protect communities and prevent modern slavery.

Report summary

Climate change and modern slavery are inextricably linked. With climate change causing a system-wide threat to our planet and society, we are seeing the increasing vulnerabilities that people experience as they lose their livelihoods and increasingly consider migrating, making them more at risk of exploitation and trafficking.

The southern border of Bangladesh and India, close to the Sundarbans mangrove forest, has some of the most vulnerable districts to climate change in the world. With rising temperatures and recurrent disasters - access to land, water and stable livelihoods is increasingly challenging. Over 1,200 households were interviewed as part of the study, and various stakeholders including national actors, environmental officials, NGO staff, community leaders and union leaders provided critical insights into the risks faced by communities in the Sundarbans.

With increasing damage from climate change, the report finds that:

  • Over 88% of households in Bangladesh and 61% in India reported their livelihoods have been affected by climate change

  • Over 1/3 of households had migrated in the past 5 years.

Extreme events due to climate change - such as cyclones, storm surges and flash floods - are causing frequent shocks within communities that have pushed people to migrate and increased the risk of exploitation through bonded labour and illegal work. The report also finds a heightened risk of sexual exploitation and forced marriage amongst women and girls. This report therefore highlights the critical need to address modern slavery and human trafficking in climate change responses and ensure that safe and dignified migration is enabled.

Key recommendations

The report highlights a range of recommendations for national and international actors, including:

  • Engage in multi-sectoral collaboration among governments, CSOs and NGOs on the nexus between climate-change, migration and human trafficking to enhance joint information sharing and monitoring.

  • Increase access to basic services and social safety nets, including financial aid for both short and long-term hazards.

  • Ensure climate plans include intersecting factors including modern-slavery, human trafficking and socio-economic factors that may increase vulnerabilities to exploitation along migration pathways.

  • Implement gender-sensitive programmes to provide support for women and girls.

  • Improve access to safe and dignified migration routes, including fulfilment of obligations set forth in international human rights law and the Global Compact for Migration.

  • Strengthen enforcement of national laws on bonded labour and fulfil commitments to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons to ensure workers are remunerated properly and not exposed to debt entrapment.

  • Loss and damage support and access to funds for mitigation and adaptation programmes for communities in the Sundarbans.

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