Modern slavery, environmental degradation and climate change: Fisheries, field, forests and factories

David Brown, Doreen Boyd, Katherine Brickell, Chris Ives, Nithya Natarajan, Laurie Parsons

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In this commentary paper, the current state of research on the tightly connected and bi-directional relationships among modern slavery, environmental degradation and climate change is critically assessed and reviewed. An emerging branch of research has begun to conceptualize linkages between slavery and environmental change. Responding to a gap in the extant literature, this paper synthesizes and makes sense of this emerging research base and proposes a future research agenda for exploring the slavery–environment nexus. Through an exploration of 19 key texts which explicitly examine the relationship between slavery and environmental change, spanning across diverse disciplines and spatial scales, we draw out two key arguments that can be adopted in proposing a future research agenda. Firstly, we identify the sectoral emergence of the nexus, forming primarily around four key sectors: (i) Fisheries, (ii) Fields, (iii) Forests and (iv) Factories. The review suggests that a sufficient exploration of slavery–environment linkages needs to transverse these sectoral boundaries. Secondly, the paper highlights the bi-directional interactions among modern slavery, climate change and environmental degradation. Accordingly, we argue for a holistic lens which explores how slavery practices and environmental change are continually shaping one another. Existing research has provided initial understandings of the relationship among modern slavery, environmental destruction and climate change. However, there remains considerable scope for the connections between the three to be further interrogated and unpacked. Based on the review, the paper sets out three key research agendas, highlighting the need to move beyond a spatially and sectorally confined exploration of slavery–environment interactions towards an integrated and sophisticated interrogation of the nexus. Additionally, we propose the future examination of the deep underlying drivers of slavery–environment interactions and to situate these within contemporary capitalist social and economic relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Early online date11 Nov 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Nov 2019

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