Wildlife decline causes human trafficking, child slavery: study

Depletion of species has increased the need for labour

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Monday 28 July 2014

Children fulfil the need for cheap labour in the fishing industry (Photo: Food and Agriculture Organisation)

Decline in wildlife is driving child slavery and human trafficking, says a new study. This is also proliferating conflicts and organised crimes.

The study was led by a group of researchers from the University of California (UC), Berkeley. The research paper, published in the journal Science, highlights how loss of food and employment from wildlife decline could also lead to political instability. “This paper is about recognising wildlife decline as a source of social conflict rather than a symptom,” lead author of the study Justin Brashares says in a press release  “Billions of people rely directly and indirectly on wild sources of meat for income and sustenance, and this resource is declining. It’s not surprising that the loss of this critical piece of human livelihood has huge social consequences,” he adds.
The harvesting of wild animals is worth $400 billion annually, which supports the livelihoods of 15 per cent of the world’s population, reports BBC. The researchers argue that the rapid depletion of species has increased the need for slave labour. “There’s a direct link between the scarcity of wildlife, the labour demands of harvests and the dramatic increase in child slavery. Many communities that rely on these wildlife resources don’t have the economic capacity to hire more labourers, so instead they look for cheap labour, and in many areas this has led to the outright purchasing of children as slaves,” Brashares explains.

Slavery in fishing industry

According to BBC, declining fisheries around the world mean boats often have to travel further in harsher conditions to find their catch. In Asia, men from Burma, Cambodia and Thailand are increasingly sold to fishing boats where they remain at sea for many years, often without pay, the report says.

Brashares attributes Somali piracy to battles over fishing rights. What began as an effort to repel foreign vessels illegally trawling through Somali waters escalated into hijacking fishing, and later non-fishing, vessels for ransom, states the press release. “Surprisingly few people recognise that competition for fish stocks led to the birth of Somali piracy,” Brashares says. “For Somali fishermen, and for hundreds of millions of others, fish and wildlife were their only source of livelihood, so when that was threatened by international fishing fleets, drastic measures were taken.”

The researchers further connected wildlife poaching to the drug trade and observe that huge profits from trafficking luxury wildlife goods, such as elephant tusks and rhino horns, have attracted guerrilla groups and crime syndicates worldwide. The point to the Lord’s Resistance Army, al-Shabab and Boko Haram as groups that use wildlife poaching to fund terrorist attacks.

“This paper begins to touch the tip of the iceberg about issues on wildlife decline, and in doing so, the authors offer a provocative and completely necessary perspective about the holistic nature of the causes and consequences of wildlife decline,” says Meredith Gore, a Michigan State University associate professor in the nascent field of conservation criminology who was not part of the study.

The authors give examples of local governments in Fiji granting exclusive rights of hunting and fishing grounds to the local population and the control of management zones in Namibia to reduce poaching and improve the livelihood of local populations.

“The most important bit from this article, I think, is that we need to better understand the factors that underlie fish and wildlife decline from a local perspective, and that interdisciplinary approaches are likely the best option for facilitating this understanding,” Gore says.

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