It touches the food we eat and the air we breathe, the clothes we wear and possibly the device you’re using to read these words.
But slavery today is a paradox. It is hidden away as never before, but its effects are everywhere.
If slavery were a country it would have the population of Canada and the GDP of Kuwait, but its CO2 emissions would rank third globally after China and the US.
The latest measures of global slavery conservatively estimate there are about 36m slaves worldwide, spread across virtually all countries. The UN says slavery generates some US$150 billion annually.
These numbers seem immense, but the number of slaves represents only a small amount of the global population. While US$150 billion is a tiny fraction of the global economy and is spread across several million local criminal enterprises.
In all of human history, slavery has never been such a small part of our shared existence. Slavery is illegal in every country, it is condemned by every faith, and business and government leaders are unanimous in rejecting it.
Slavery has been pushed to the very edges of our global society, but it is still destroying lives and the natural world at an alarming rate because the criminal gangs who employ slave labour are often involved in pollution and deforestation as part of their work.
Many slaves are forced to work in destructive activities like clearing forests for mines, farms and plantations – making slave labour the world’s third biggest ‘country’ in terms of CO2 emissions.
A concerted effort to end slavery around the world is a big investment, but one that can have a huge global impact. Enforcement of the anti-slavery laws that are on the books in every country would immediately diminish CO2 emissions and species loss.
In developing countries ending slavery can stimulate the economy, ward off the threat of rising sea levels or destructive deforestation, and preserve endangered species. Freed slaves can also be paid to replant the forests they were forced to cut.
This would not only help to rehabilitate the land, but it would also help to give work and a wage to some of the people who need this most in the world.
Kevin Bales writes more about his research into the link between slavery and climate change here