How Climate-Related Migration Drives Forced Labour A New Research Launched by IOM and SEI

Myanmar migrant worker working in rubber tree plantations in Phang Nga, Southern Thailand ©IOM 2006

Bangkok – This month, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched a ground-breaking research project with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) looking at how climate change and environmental degradation heighten the risks of forced labour and human trafficking in international supply chains.

This is the first research aiming to identify how business, civil society and states can work together to promote safe, orderly and regular labour migration as an adaptation strategy to climate and environmental change in Asia and the Pacific.

“Little is still known about how environmental factors influence the risks of modern slavery. The problem is not new, and among all sectors, agriculture is particularly at risk due to the irregularity and seasonality of employment patterns,” said Ms. Geraldine Ansart, Chief of Mission at IOM Thailand. “Agriculture is also among the most impacted by environmental change causing droughts or flooding,” she added.

South and South-East Asia are some of the most disaster-prone areas in the world. The impacts of climate related disasters, exacerbated by socio-economic inequalities, lead to loss of access to water, food, shelter and livelihoods. As people migrate to escape these impacts, they become increasingly vulnerable to human and labour rights abuses during their journeys.

The IOM-SEI study will focus on agricultural sectors in Malaysia and Thailand, which are reliant on the employment of migrant workers, and which contribute around seven per cent to the national GDPs. In Malaysia, specifically in the palm oil sector, migrant workers account for 80 per cent of the plantation workforce. Thailand employs 430,000 migrant workers in its agricultural sector, especially on the sugarcane, rubber and palm oil plantations.

Despite their contributions to national economies, migrants remain vulnerable to exploitation. Unethical recruitment practices, lack of proper documentation such as work or stay permits, lack of written employment contracts, seasonality and daily work, non-payment of wages, long working hours, lack of coverage under the national social security schemes, and unsafe working and living conditions are among the most prevalent risks facing migrants employed in agriculture. During COVID-19 these challenges have often become even more prevalent.

“Businesses and states have a responsibility to protect and respect human and labour rights of all stakeholders including migrants, as laid out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM),” Ms. Ansart said. “This study will help them to understand how to mitigate the impacts of environmental change on the likelihood of migrant workers accepting exploitative jobs,” she added.

To be launched in the fourth quarter of 2022, the findings of the study will inform relevant policy makers and businesses in Malaysia and Thailand on measures required to better protect migrant workers in agricultural supply chains through promoting safe, orderly and regular migration.

Dr. Sara Vigil, Research Fellow at SEI, stressed that businesses efforts to uphold environmental and human rights are crucial in achieving a more equitable and liveable planet. “Correcting damaging business practices, while leveraging and upscaling promising ones, is an important step in that direction,” Dr. Vigil added.

This initiative is part of IOM’s Corporate Responsibility in Eliminating Slavery and Trafficking (CREST) initiative, a regional partnership that aims to realize the potential of business to uphold the human and labour rights of migrant workers in their operations and supply chains.

For more information, please contact Ms. Panitee Nuykram at or Ms. Evie van Uden at


Note to Editor:

About the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) is an international non-profit research and policy organization that tackles environment and development challenges. SEI Asia in Bangkok plays a key role in fulfilling SEI’s mission to bridge science and policy to help advance sustainable development, through research, capacity-building, and engagement with stakeholders.

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities