Certain industries face particularly high environmental risks, including agriculture, fishing and aquaculture, logging, and mining. Workers in these sectors also face risks; the use of forced labor has been documented along the supply chains of many commercial sectors. Exploitation of both people and natural resources appears even more likely when the yield is obtained or produced in illegal, unregulated, or environmentally harmful ways and in areas where monitoring and legal enforcement are weak.
Unsustainable agricultural practices around the world are a major cause of environmental degradation. The manner in which land is used can either protect or destroy biodiversity, water resources, and soil. Some governments and corporations are working to ensure that the agricultural sector becomes increasingly more productive, and also that this productivity is achieved in an environmentally sustainable way. Alongside the movement to protect the environment from harm, governments must also protect agricultural workers from exploitation.
Agriculture is considered by the International Labor Organization to be one of the most hazardous employment sectors. Particular risks to workers include exposure to harsh chemicals and diseases, work in extreme weather conditions, and operation of dangerous machinery without proper training. Moreover, many agricultural workers are vulnerable to human trafficking due to their exclusion from coverage by local labor laws, pressure on growers to reduce costs, insufficient internal monitoring and audits of labor policies, and lack of government oversight.
As documented in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report over the years, adults and children are compelled to work in various agricultural sectors around the globe. For example:
The 2012 TIP Report highlighted forced labor on fishing vessels occurring concurrently with illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which threatens food security and the preservation of marine resources. Vessels involved in other environmental crimes, such as poaching, may also trap their crews in forced labor. Testimonies from survivors of forced labor on fishing vessels have revealed that many of the vessels on which they suffered exploitation used banned fishing gear, fished in prohibited areas, failed to report or misreported catches, operated with fake licenses, and docked in unauthorized ports — all illegal fishing practices that contribute to resource depletion and species endangerment. Without proper regulation, monitoring, and enforcement of laws governing both fishing practices and working conditions, criminals will continue to threaten the environmental sustainability of oceans and exploit workers with impunity.
In recent years, a growing body of evidence has documented forced labor on inland, coastal, and deep sea fishing vessels, as well as in shrimp farming and seafood processing. This evidence has prompted the international advocacy community to increase pressure on governments and private sector stakeholders to address the exploitation of men, women, and children who work in the commercial fishing and aquaculture sector.
Reports of maritime forced labor include:
One out of five people in the world relies directly upon forests for food, income, building materials, and medicine. Yet laws to protect forests are often weak and poorly monitored. Illegal logging has led to forest degradation, deforestation, corruption at the highest levels in governments, and human rights abuses against entire communities, including indigenous populations. Human trafficking is included in this list of abuses. While some governments and civil society organizations have voiced strong opposition to illegal logging and made pledges to protect this valuable resource, the international community has given comparably little attention to the workers cutting down the trees, transporting the logs, or working in the intermediate processing centers. At the same time, the serious problem of workers in logging camps sexually exploiting trafficking victims has garnered insufficient attention.
There is a dearth of documented information on working conditions of loggers and the way the logging industry increases the risk of human trafficking in nearby communities. Recent reports of trafficking in this sector include:
Mining — particularly artisanal and small scale mining — often has a negative impact on the environment, including through deforestation and pollution due to widespread use of mercury. The United Nations Environmental Program estimates that the mining sector is responsible for 37 percent of global mercury emissions, which harm ecosystems and have serious health impacts on humans and animals. In addition to degrading the environment, mining often occurs in remote or rural areas with limited government presence, leaving individuals in mining communities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia more vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking.
Examples of human trafficking related to the mining industry include:
Governments, private industry, and civil society have an opportunity to push for greater environmental protections in tandem with greater protections for workers, including those victimized by human trafficking. Additional research is also needed to further study the relationship between environmental degradation and human trafficking in these and other industries. It is also essential to strengthen partnerships to better understand this intersection and tackle both forms of exploitation, individually and together.