Links between slavery, environmental damage are cause for hope, author argues

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 21:37 GMT

Brazilian slaver labourer Francisco Borges de Souza bleeds from the side of his nose as he cuts down forest on the Bom Jesus farm in the Amazon basin, some 1,600 km north of Brasilia, in this September 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Rickey Rogers

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As slave labour is often used to cut down forests, ending it would help reduce CO2 emissions, says Kevin Bales

NEW YORK, Jan 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Human slavery and environmental destruction go hand in hand, a complex but encouraging combination that could make efforts to eradicate the global woes easier to focus and succeed, a leading expert argues in a new book.

Enforcing and funding existing anti-slavery laws, which are universal, will lead naturally to protection of the environment, writes Kevin Bales, author of "Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide and the Secret to Saving the World."

"These two problems, this ancient and terrible problem of slavery and this newer concern that we have about climate change, are actually so tightly linked together that the solutions are fitting both of them," Bales told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview this week.

Specifically, slave labor is often used to cut down the world's forests, he said.

Such rapid, illegal deforestation accelerates the levels of carbon dioxide because forests store such gases and absorb them from the atmosphere, he said.

Thus enforcing laws against slave labor would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the key culprit behind global warming, he said.

"If you put the resources into just ending the slavery, one of the things that would happen would be illegal deforestation would come to an end," he said.

Further, because damaging the environment can destroy local livelihoods, protecting the environment could render people less vulnerable to falling victim to slavery, he argued.

Bales said he relies on the Global Slavery Index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, that estimates nearly 36 million people are enslaved around the world.

The convergence of slavery and environmental destruction is cause for hope, Bales added. He is co-founder of Free the Slaves and author of several books on modern slavery.

"Everybody's against slavery," he said. "All we have to do is enforce existing laws against something everyone agrees is pretty horrific, so to me that seems like a pretty good thing.

"This opens the door to a different approach."

Also, he noted, freed slaves could be paid to plant trees with funds generated by a cap-and-trade system. Under cap and trade, typically, entities that do not cut their carbon emissions can buy carbon credits from those that do so.

"Could cap and trade fund the end of slavery while reducing atmospheric CO2?" he wrote. "It's time we find out."

"Blood and Earth," which examines forced labor by armed groups, debt bondage, sexual slavery, forced marriages and child soldiers in industries including lumber, shrimp farming, gold mining and brick making, was published this week by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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