Adrienne | Week 10: Linking Human-Trafficking and the Environment

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.” – Romina Picollotti, Linking Human Rights and the Environment

Rarely do we associate the movement of human-trafficking and the degradation of the environment.  It is often viewed that human-trafficking is a human rights abuse, which fundamentally can be disaggregated into a political issue, or an issue of inequality.  On the other hand, the fall of the environment is seen as a problem with infrastructure, and associated with poor agriculture, fishing, mining, or forestry practices.  In the world of non-governmental organizations, we do not often connect the two; the two movements are often disparate and in turn target different demographics and actions for change.

What we fail to realize is how the two are so closely linked.  With poor human rights we often see the fall of environmental conditions.  When looking at consumer goods, we can see that poor working practices for humans can lead to environmental degradation that comes along with making the products that surround us everyday.  Here are some examples:

Mining – In the Democratic Republic of Congo, civilians (including children) are forced to mine for conflict minerals by the Congolese National Army, and various armed rebel groups.  Violence and rape are used to control the population, and people in the area are illegally taxed, extorted and coerced into working in these mines.  People are forced to work up to 48-hour shifts, in tunnels prone to soil erosion, leading to mass landslides and cave-ins.  These people are forced to mine for cassiterite, wolframite, coltan, and gold, minerals that are used in our everyday electronics, including our laptops, iPods, and cellphones.  Mining of any kind will lead to the degradation of the environment – soil erosion, contamination of groundwater, surface water and soil by chemical extractors, and poisonous tailing ponds are all byproducts that must be effectively managed.  Without proper working conditions, safety equipment and mandated protocol, communities living around this area will be hazardously exposed for decades to come.

Fishing – In the oceans around Sumatra, children are falsely promised good employment working on the some 1,500 fishing farms around Dublar Char, Indonesia.  Each farm imprisons between three to ten children, with the only exit route being a twenty-mile swim to the closest coastline.  Children are beaten, sexually abused, and are at constant risk of being swept overboard and into the ocean.  The fish caught by these children are sent for export, with America being one of the top destinations for shrimp, fish, canned tuna, and tilapia from this area.  Poor fishing practices have lead to the draining our oceans of its mass biodiversity.  Mangroves home to some of the richest ecosystems, have been wiped out due to the implementation of profitable fish farms.  These mangroves also act as a natural buffer zone for coastal impact, and once eliminated, such as around the coastlines of Sri Lanka, ramifications can be seen as in the 2004 tsunami that took its deathly toll.

Forestry – In the forests of Brazil, the vastly biodiverse areas of the Amazon were cut down and replaced by a mono crop of Eucalyptus.  This crop would be used to create charcoal to make the steel and iron we use in our vehicles and appliances.  Any surviving plants or animals in this region would soon die off as plants competed for soil nutrients and resources, and animals starved due to lack of food or consuming the noxious poisonous leaves from the Eucalyptus trees.  These trees were then cut down by forced laborers, hurled into mass piers, and burnt to make a special type of charcoal used to make iron and steel.  Charcoal camps are rampant with human exploitation, with people at risk of severe burns and cuts.  The charcoal used to make this steel and iron go into the backbone of our cars, into making of our sinks, bathtubs and plumbing fixtures.

All around us we see human value degrade alongside our environment.  But there are tangible and effective actions we can take to ensure that companies are making an effort towards implementing a slave-free supply chain.  The Free2Work App  will ensure that companies are taking action to assess their use of suppliers all the way down to the raw materials level, to illustrate the initiatives that certain industries are taking towards better protecting the rights of humans and in turn, the sustainability of our planet.


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