Restoring Wildlife May Help Stop Forced Labor and Human Trafficking

Created on Wednesday, 27 August 2014


As some natural resources – including certain seafood species – continue to diminish, resource harvesters must work harder to get the same nutrition or economic gain from their effort. Fishers have to search father out at sea, endure harsher conditions, and fish for longer periods to attain the same returns they did a generation ago. 

Sadly, exploitative labor practices are being used to make up for the increasing costs of resource extraction, fueled by the hidden international demand for human trafficking and forced labor. For example in Thailand, Burmese, Cambodian, and Thai men are trafficked to work aboard fishing vessels. Unable to leave, they may remain at sea for several years without pay and endure depraved conditions that may include starvation, physical abuse, or murder. For more information about human rights abuses in Thai seafood supply chains, see the Guardian report Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in the US, UK.

A recent article in Science magazine highlights a direct link between wildlife conservation and the prevention of human rights abuses. The escalation of human trafficking associated with declining fishery harvests exposes the connections between fishery decline, poverty, and human exploitation. Anti-trafficking laws and policies exist, but do not adequately address the scale of the problem or underlying issues like the rapid depletion of wildlife. Similarly, policies aimed at addressing wildlife decline must also consider the social context of wildlife use and connections between wildlife scarcity and social conflict.

The authors call for biologists to work with politicians, economists, and social scientists to find solutions. Combatting trafficking should be one part of an integrative approach that also considers the ecological, socioeconomic, and institutional contexts in which wildlife declines have cascading effects.

For information on Thai shrimp recommendations for seafood businesses, please see the FishWise briefing document. 

6020089782 45109806a5 o

Photo: Susan Braun