When scientists talk about the destruction of rain forests or the acidification of oceans, we often hear about the tragic loss of plants and animals.
But ecologists at the University of California, Berkeley, say there’s also a human tragedy that frequently goes unnoticed: As fish and fauna are wiped out, more children around the world are forced to work. And more people are forced into indentured servitude, scientists wrote Thursday in the journal Science.
"My students, postdocs and I spent a year stepping back and trying to connect the dots between wildlife decline and human exploitation," says ecologist Justin Brashares, who led the study. “We found about 50 examples around the world.”
One those examples made international headlines in June when the Guardianpublished a report about slavery in the Thai shrimping industry.
"Large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to the production of prawns," the British newspaper reported. These shrimp are “sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco,” the report said.
The world’s food supply, both here in the U.S. and abroad, is increasingly connected to child labor and human trafficking, Brashares says. And the problems isn’t just in the fishing industry or large supply chains that stock megagrocery stores. Many of the world’s poorest people are turning to exploitative labor practices to earn a living and feed their families as traditional sources of food disappear.
Wild animals, both on land and in the sea, provide incomes for about 15 percent of the world’s population, Brashares and his team wrote. These animals are also the main source of protein for many of these people.
Photo: A child grabs sleep after a long day of labor in a struggling West African fishery. (Courtesy of Jessica Pociask, WANT Expeditions)
An important story.