Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

One million 'modern slaves' serving European consumers

24.11.2022 Lorène Lavocat Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

Every year, Europeans' frenzied consumption is associated with 1.2 million cases of modern slavery and 4,200 deaths, says a groundbreaking study. This high demand, especially for minerals, is destroying people and the planet.

On your marks, get set... stop, and go on. While the big consumer fair is in full swing, an unpublished study has documented the hidden - and rather dark - side of our purchases. Smartphones, cars, household appliances... These everyday objects are all little climate and human bombs.

Every year, European consumption is associated with 1.2 million cases of modern slavery and 4,200 fatal work accidents worldwide. And almost 40% of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions footprint takes place outside its borders.

"Emissions generated outside our borders to satisfy European consumers make up a very large share of our emissions," says Guillaume Lafortune of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), which produced the report. We can't pretend they don't exist, just because they are caused elsewhere.” Our consumerist frenzy causes 4.7 gigatonnes (Gt) of greenhouse gas emissions outside Europe every year, eleven times more than France's emissions. This is known as imported emissions.

To arrive at these results, the UN network, in partnership with the University of Sydney, put the computers to work: "We combined databases on financial and trade flows with satellite data on forced labour or CO2 emissions," explains Mr Lafortune. After looking at the impact of the textile and food industries, the researchers looked more closely at fossil and raw minerals. Natural gas, oil, uranium, copper, zinc, stone, sand, phosphate, salt... These resources extracted from the soil and the seabed are essential for the production of our goods and services.

"The current transitions are particularly mineral-intensive.”

“And they are used in many of our consumer products," adds Mr Lafortune. The problem is that the energy and digital transitions underway - with smartphones, electric vehicles and wind turbines - are particularly mineral-intensive.” So we are far from seeing a drop in demand.

These are all resources that are essential to our productivist society... and which are not, or are barely, to be found in Europe’s subsoil.

The European Union 27 countries are thus heavily dependent on imports: according to the study, "the EU consumed about 2.7 times more metal ores and 2.9 times more fossil energy than the amount extracted within its borders in 2019."

Mining, refining, assembly, transport... the production and transport of these raw materials are obviously not without consequences. On the planet, but also on people. “China, one of the EU's main trading partners, is very concerned," says Lafortune. “They have regular explosions in factories, and working conditions are far from ideal.” In Turkey, one worker dies every four hours in a work-related accident, the study says. As for forced labour, cases have been reported in North Korea, Nigeria and Angola, especially in mines.

What can be done to reduce these devastating effects? “There is no magic wand," says Lafortune. “Stopping all our imports is not the solution, because international trade is a source of income and employment in many countries in the South.”

Instead, our expert is banking on a series of regulatory tools at European level: the adoption - currently underway - of a vigilance law like the one that exists in France, targeted bans - on forced labour in particular - or a carbon tax at borders.

Note. Reporterre takes the liberty of adding to this list other avenues for detoxifying the world, such as sobriety or even low tech.

Photo. October 2022. A cobalt mine in Shabara, 50 kilometres from the town of Kolwezi (DR Congo). © Junior Kannah / AFP

Leave a comment