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Expert Links Environmental Destruction and Modern Slavery

Expert Links Environmental Destruction and Modern Slavery

According to Kevin Bales, if slavery were a country or state, it would have the population of Canada or California with the GDP of Angola or Kansas. And that “country” of more than 27 million would have a per-capita emission level roughly eight times that of the United States.

Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at University of Hull, spoke February 4 to students, faculty, and the public at the University of Minnesota about his latest book, Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World.


Bales’ lecture focused not only on raising awareness but also on bringing connections and solutions to the problems he identified throughout the world. His talk centered around the contemporary classifications of slavery, the situation of those therein, his years of research, and the quantifiable evidence of the increased carbon footprint and environmental destruction by those forced into slavery.

As he explained, many children and young adults in developing nations are forced into conditions of exhaustive labor in hopes of a better future.  Their work is part of an economic system based on cutting costs and steps to turn a profit, including taking advantage of natural resources and risking the health of individuals through widespread environmental degradation and destruction. It is in realizing the frightening connections between these practices and the precious metals in our cellphones or many of the foods on our plate that we may understand the mutually constitutive relationship between these human rights abuses and the grievous harm to the planet on which we live. Many illegal fisheries, massive brick-making factories, and mining industries, to name a few, have not only violated many lands protected under international law by exploiting, permanently destroying, or poisoning their ecosystem but have also contributed to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions.

For Bales, the connection between the contemporary slavery industry and ecocide are startlingly clear. The combined carbon emissions produced in these slave-based industries are third in size only to China and the United States. 

Despite this terrible impact, Bales proposed policy changes, emphasizing that “there are many ways out of slavery and many ways to save the environment”. As the two conditions are deeply intertwined, he envisioned the solution as one in the same for slavery and environmental destruction, transforming the former slaves into a respected workforce that uses the land and resources on which they were previously entrapped for ecological good, by means of sustainable farming and forestry work. 

Bales is the co-founder and former president of Free the Slaves, the largest modern abolitionist organization in the world. He has also served as a trustee of Anti-Slavery International and as a consultant to the United Nations Global Program Against Trafficking in Human Beings. He is the author of numerous reports, monographs, and scholarly books on modern slavery, including the acclaimed Disposable People. He lives in Brighton, England.

Written by Amanda Kruger
February 11th, 2016