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Climate Change and Human Trafficking in the Pacific 

Written by: Pefi Kingi (PacificWin) and Anne Pakoa (Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition)

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The annual US Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report consistently highlights the importance of addressing human trafficking. However, little has been done to address or mitigate the impacts of climate change on forced labour and human trafficking in the Pacific region, as our members Pefi Kingi and Anne Pakoa explore.

“Human trafficking has occurred in the Pacific as long as people have used their power over others to force individuals into sexual servitude or for labour. " - Suzanna Tiapula

The Pacific Region is vibrant and diverse; and with climate change impacts, its problems have become more complex. Our context is beset with many longstanding as well as modern challenges; and into this context is the added issues and realities of human trafficking or trafficking in persons. Increasing effects of climate change have exacerbated deep-rooted vulnerabilities in communities. Despite recognition of the impacts of climate change, little has been done to address the interlinkages with contemporary forms of slavery in the region.

Pacific Forum Leaders have long held our collective sense of regionalism; all sector stakeholders have pushed and advocated for the “Blue Pacific” its people hold dear. Our battle and our war have become one and the same--climate change. It has affected all dimensions of our Pacific lives, and as the Boe Declaration (2018) recognised, it affects all aspects of our prosperity, including human, cyber and environmental security.

The US Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report is an important tool used by the United States government to engage foreign governments on issues of human trafficking. Countries are ranked according to tiers; while Tier 1 is the highest ranking, this does not assume that a Tier 1 country has no human trafficking problem. Rather, a Tier 1 ranking acknowledges that the government has made an active effort to address the existence of human trafficking and that it complies with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Tier 2 countries, on the other hand, do not fully comply with minimum standards, but are also making efforts to reach such standards.

The 2020 TiP Report indicated that though Australia and New Zealand were once again considered Tier 1, little progress has been made elsewhere in the region. The following countries remain in Tier 2: Micronesia, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu; and on the Tier 2 Watchlist, Fiji and Papua New Guinea are featured. The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu have yet to ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.

The nexus of climate change and human trafficking present extreme disruptions that require a united regional response, review of policies, targeted surveillance, tailored implementation, and earmarked investment. We must collectively fight this war so that we realise the Pacific vision we aspire for our children, “a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy and productive lives.”

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