Taking a longer-term perspective to salient human rights risks identification: the instance of migration and forced labour

Anna Triponel

September 8, 2023

On 13-14 June 2023, the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and AIM-Progress held the Global Forum for Responsible Recruitment: Advancing Fair and Ethical Recruitment for All.

Human Level’s Anna Triponel joined Nicole Munns from Justice & Care, Pablo Escribano from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Rachel Rigby from Rainforest Alliance, and Louise Herring from AIM-Progress to discuss climate change and conflict in the context of induced migration and labour exploitation in the Global Forum for Responsible Recruitment 2023 organised by IHRB and AIM Progress. 

The following captures key remarks made as part of the session for those who were unable to join us. The full session can be found here.

 Anna Triponel:

  • Companies’ human rights issues will get worse with time because of the rapidly warming climate
  • Currently, few companies are looking ahead to see where risks to people will materialise in the future and what actions they can take now to mitigate these risks 
  • A short-term approach can be baked into human rights due diligence systems, for instance, assessing whether human rights issues will be impacts today. This short-term approach does not equip companies to look ahead and to anticipate how migration flows will manifest and how they will impact people in their value chain and in their own operations
  • Companies can take a long-term perspective to human rights due diligence by assessing what the operating context will look like for their business in 2030 and beyond. Companies can do this by bringing in scientific data points such as looking at the pathways of the future that the world could take and assessing how these pathways will impact human rights  
  • In short, a long-term perspective on salience entails looking at likelihood and severity, based on forward-looking scientific and human rights knowledge. This in turn can equip companies to play a role today to mitigate the salient human rights issues of tomorrow
  • Human rights and climate need to have a seat at the table when business decisions are being made so that we can see where the business is going, and what we can do to bring a rights-respecting lens to that business decision-making 
  • Companies can take actions to build the resilience of people in their value chains, for instance, ensuring living wage/ living income, access to trade unions and collective bargaining, and tackling discrimination
  • Companies can prioritise the actions to take by first looking at migrant workers in countries that are likely to migrate due to climate change, and then expanding the assessment outwards 
  • Companies can look at playing a role to incentivise and push for a much stronger enabling environment that support migrants, such as policies to provide social security in host country. This is grounded in collective and creative leverage referenced in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 
  • Companies can look at what role they would like to play when it comes to leaning in and acting on the human rights impacts that have been caused by their greenhouse gas emissions

 Nicole Munns (Director at Justice & Care):

  • Climate change and conflict are becoming increasingly relevant drivers of significant increase in forced migration. So, the numbers of migrants forcibly displaced or of distressed displacement within and across borders has nearly doubled in the last ten years, reaching its highest levels since World War II. This has important consequences for the risk of trafficking and labour exploitation
  • Individuals forced to migrate due to conflict and climate change come mostly from lower- and middle-income nations and they're already living in poor economic conditions, which makes them inherently vulnerable. Conflict and climate change induced migration compounds these pre-existing vulnerabilities, particularly when migration is entered into suddenly as a result of conflict or extreme weather events 
  • Migrants have limited opportunities for income generation and limited access to government – for instance for legal and labour protection in transit and destination countries. In cases of protracted displacement, migrants are more prone to desperation as a result of the lack of opportunities 
  • Those that are impacted by conflict and climate induced migration are already a very vulnerable group and forced migration heightens this risk
  • Governments have an important role to play to create an enabling environment so that responsible businesses are not operating in an uneven playing field which makes it difficult for them to compete while respecting rights. We are now seeing governments enforcing mandatory due diligence obligations to ensure that all businesses identify and address risks of exploitation in their supply chains – which is a very welcome direction of travel

Pablo Escribano (Americas and Caribbean Regional Thematic Specialist on migration, environment and climate change at IOM)

  • Climate hazards, but also environmental hazards at large, affect the way and the conditions in which people move. For instance, in many countries in the Americas, disaster displacement happens over the year because of different impacts such as floods and impacts, and people are forced to move out of their homes
  • 60.9 million new internal displacements worldwide due to conflict and disaster were recorded in 2022
  • The impacts of climate change and disasters increase vulnerabilities of poor communities, rural communities, indigenous communities and the specific situations of women and children 
  • Throughout the migration process, we are seeing increased levels of vulnerability and of exposure to exploitations and other harmful practices
  • We are seeing smaller scale disasters that are driving displacement in places like Brazil and Colombia on a daily basis. This proliferation of risk is compounded by limited integration into society and limited access to social protection. Displaced people may fall victims of trafficking or may turn into smugglers because they are in a desperate state. So, in all of these areas, we are seeing an increase in vulnerability that's exacerbated by climate hazards and disasters
  • Migration can offer solutions to some of the major challenges of our time such as climate adaptation
  • Governments have a role to put conditions in place to ensure migration can be done safely and regularly
  • Businesses have a key role to play in facilitating dialogue around the skills gap that are needed in the places where migrants are moving from and to

Rachel Rigby (Human Rights Lead at Rainforest Alliance)

  • It is important to acknowledge the underlying causes of human rights and labour rights abuses related to climate change and land degradation so that we can tackle root causes in a systemic way, and not work on these issues in a siloed way
  • Risks related to migrant workers alone does not give you information on the causes of that migration and whether it is linked to climate change and if so, what we need to do to tackle climate change 
  • There are things that companies can know. For example, in West African cocoa production, it's well known that migrant workers come from Burkina Faso and Mali to Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire for the cocoa harvest, and they are among the most vulnerable people in the cocoa supply chain. They are driven by poverty in their home countries, but also climate and land degradation in home countries. Another salient issue linked to worker protection and climate change is the reality of widescale labour shortages in the sending areas
  • Many companies that source coffee, for example, have been looking at climate risk maps and other projection tools for years to plan their sourcing and channel investments. However, these kinds of activities don't necessarily encompass the human element. They may look at what investments they need to make to ensure their coffee crop is available, but not necessarily what happens to those people's livelihoods or the working conditions of workers
  • Companies can support farmer livelihoods through implementing good purchasing practices. This can mean many things like having stable long-term relationships with suppliers, thereby providing livelihood stability for farmers in a volatile environment and paying fair prices. And in commodity agriculture, this can definitely mean more than the market price. 
  • Another helpful measure is to support farmers’ adaptation to climate change, making the necessary investments in the land to make the farm more resilient. It is important that when these measures are implemented, they're always accompanied by some form of monitoring of labour standards
  • Companies can also partner with labour rights organisations that run recruitment programmes 
  • Companies should really be open to an innovation mindset. There's a lot of piloting happening right now in this whole space of just transition. How do we bring together these issues and tackle root causes in a systemic way? For example, there are innovative programmes around climate mitigation that seek to address climate change and provide decent livelihoods and working conditions simultaneously. We have a programme in Cameroon where the community has set up a landscape management board with inclusive membership, women, Indigenous People, etc. It makes bottom-up decisions about land use and land protection. And based on the decisions of that board, members of the community, including young people, are being trained to do carbon monitoring and data reporting.

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