Quantifying modern slavery, low-carbon transport, the price of illegal timber, and an insight into happiness in the workplace

Human trafficking reporting in the US is continuing to increase. In 2016, the charity Polaris registered 8,042 reports of trafficking to its hotline service, up 35% on the previous year. Of these, 7,572 related to cases within the US. Since 2007, when the Polaris-operated National Human Trafficking hotline was set up, a total of 33,680 cases have been reported. Polaris says the rise may relate to an increase in public awareness of the problem and not necessarily greater incidence. Most of the incidences (73%) were for sex trafficking, while 18% were for labour trafficking. Based on testimony data, 62% of those trapped in slavery are adults and 38% are minors. The average age for those falling into sex trafficking in the US is 18 years old, compared to 24 years old for those trafficked for the purposes of labour. The vast majority of trafficking victims in the US are women (82%) and of US nationality (60%).

Meanwhile, as reported in WeeklyWatch last week, new research out from the British Standards Institution (BSI) indicates that the risk of modern day slaves entering the UK has increased in 66% of the 191 countries that BSI tracks. Russia, Slovakia, India and Pakistan are all defined as “severe risk” source countries in the BSI Trafficking & Supply Chain Slavery Patterns Index. Of the G7 nations, Italy is identified as a high risk nation, in part due to the flow of migrants from conflict-hit Syria. Between 10,000 and 13,000 men, women and children endure modern slavery or forced labour in the UK, according to the most recent statistics from the UK Home Office.

Globally, the Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people currently experience some form of modern slavery in 167 countries. The International Labour Organisation puts the victims of labour-related trafficking specifically at 20.9m. The vast majority (19m) of these are exploited by private businesses, generating profits of $150m per year. Most instances go unreported. Convictions are also difficult to obtain. Last year, the ILO counted 6,069 trafficking-related convictions around the world. Of these, 297 (4%) were in the US.

In an effort to improve the understanding of, and data concerning, the problem of modern day slavery, human rights and justice researchers at Nottingham University recently established a joint research initiative with the anti-slavery Walk Free Foundation.

Electric vehicles and PV inspire optimism for low-carbon future

Credit: Washington State House


Technological advances in battery-powered vehicles and solar technology could seriously curb demand for oil and coal from 2020 onwards. That’s the verdict of a high-level study co-authored by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a London-based non-profit. The Expect the Unexpected report models four different scenarios based on the future cost reductions in electric vehicles (EVs) and photovoltaics (PV). The scenarios range from business-as-usual to various levels of incremental policy commitment, expressed through the introduction of a formal carbon price in 2020. The price increases from a “weak” target of $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (/tCOe), to a moderate $20/tCOe based on meeting nationally determined contributions (NDCs) (ie country plans for emission reductions set under the Paris Agreement), through to a “strong” price of $30/tCOe. In each case, the price would increase 5% per year.

Assuming that policy commitments linked to the NDCs remain consistent and that the cost of EVs and PV continue to fall, the report predicts that solar PV could supply 23% of global power generation in 2040 and 29% by 2050. EVs, on the other hand, could make up a third of the road transport market by 2035 and more than two thirds of market share by 2050. The study projects that coal demand could peak in 2020 and fall to half 2012 levels by 2050. Oil demand, on the other hand, could be flat from 2020 to 2030 then fall steadily to 2050.

The fossil fuel industry is – perhaps naturally – more conservative about the impacts of lower-cost EVs and PV on the fossil fuel market. BP’s new 2017 Energy Outlook, for instance, anticipates EVs comprising only 6% of the market by 2035. According to the London-based oil major, EVs will lead to the displacement of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil by 2035, a huge increase on the mere 0.7m bpd projected by BP last year. The Grantham Institute Carbon Tracker Initiative calculations put the number at 16.4m bpd by 2040, increasing to 24.6mbd by 2050. This is close to the projection of Bloomberg New Energy Finance 2016 New Energy Outlook, which projects a 13m bpd displacement of oil by 2040, but significantly above the International Energy Agency’s 2016 New Policies Scenario. Oil demand at present is around 90m bpd.

As for gas and coal, two primary fossil fuel used in power generation, a strong PV scenario would more or less wipe out both fuels from the power sector by 2050. All the scenarios see natural gas-fired generation declining between 2020 and 2030. In the event that PV costs stay as they are now, then demand for gas and coal is projected to be hit by a shift to biomass. In scenarios with lower solar PV costs, natural gas-fired power generation continues to decline through to 2050 as it is out-competed. In sum, the outcome for gas is not inevitably bad, but very uncertain. Demand for coal, in contrast, is expected to collapse by 2040, whatever the scenario. ExxonMobil’s 2016 Outlook for Energy points towards a very different future, with renewables collectively supplying just over 10% of global power generation by 2040.

Despite the optimism of the Grantham Institute and Carbon Tracker Initiative, its scenario would still see global warming increase by 2.4-2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100. This is above the ambition of a 2C target set by the Paris Agreement but well below the 4C outcome expected by a “business-as-usual” scenario.

Most illegal tropical timber for domestic consumption


Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia collectively supply 85% of the world’s illegal tropical timber, according to a recent study by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations. The three forest-rich countries are responsible for an estimated 50%, 25% and 10% of the global market, respectively. This corresponds with their dominance in the legal tropical timber trade, too. Most illegally produced timber (except for plywood) is consumed in domestic markets of producer countries, however. Domestic consumption (in volume) accounts for 86% of illegally produced round wood, for instance, and 73% of illegally sourced lumber. Among the main tropical hardwoods, plywood has the highest percentage of illegal production and international trade.

The value of the international market for illegal primary wood products is hard to define precisely, given its clandestine nature. A 2004 study by Seneca Creek Associates and Wood Resources International put the figure at $22.5bn. A 2012 report by UNEP, meanwhile, suggests that the economic value of all global illegal logging (including processing) is between $30bn and $100bn, equivalent to 10–30% of global wood trade. According to a 2015 study by UK thinktank Chatham House the share of illegal wood products trade had remained relatively stable at about 10% of total trade by volume since 2000. Yet the destination of these illegally produced products has changed dramatically. From 2006 to 2013 the import volume of illegal wood products by China, India and Vietnam increased by more than 50%. Today, China and India are behind 72% of global tropical log imports. In contrast, illegal import volumes since 2000 have slashed by one-third for the US and one half for the EU, respectively.

The timber trade is not the only reason that forests are cleared. Nearly one third (31%) of illegal tropical timber that is sold internationally originates from illegal forest conversion, according to US charity Forest Trends. Much of the illegal forest conversion that occurs, meanwhile, is driven by commercial agricultural production. For the period 2000-2012, illegal conversion of forestlands for commercial agriculture contributed 49% total tropical deforestation. Interestingly, the corresponding proportion for legal conversion amounted to 71%. In the same period, 24% of total tropical deforestation was directly caused by illegal conversion for agricultural exports. Brazil and Indonesia collectively account for 75%of this figure. Walmart and Mars are among 20 global corporations to have recently put their name to a new monitoring tool, the Global Forest Watch Commodities platform, designed to alert them to deforestation activity in areas where they source palm oil, soya or other agricultural commodities.


Exercise of body and mind key to workplace wellbeing

Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock Inc.


One in five people feel most unhappy while in their workplace, finds a new study by Central YMCA, a health, wellbeing and education charity. The study’s authors advocate a range of ways to make work more flexible and to incentivise healthy lifestyles, such as staff discounts at gyms and subsidised yoga. Mental stimulation is as important, with employees who were stimulated by learning a new skill, tackling a challenging problem or a similar activity reporting an average wellbeing score of 6.9 out of 10. This compares to a national average of 6.12 out of 10. The study, which is based on responses from 1,000 UK adults, finds that people’s wellbeing is highest when on holiday (66%), when spending time with family (56%), or whilst socialising with friends (49%). The findings thus highlight the importance of work-life balance. Yet research suggests that the average UK worker puts in the equivalent of 38 working days over and above their contracted annual hours. This matches up to 6.5 extra hours per week. Three out of five (61%) say they are expected to work extra, while two in five say extra hours are the only way they can do the job properly (41%).

The report’s conclusions are echoed in a separate study by the UK charity Working Families, which finds that around one third of working fathers would take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance. Of the 2,750 parents surveyed, one third of fathers said they regularly felt burnt out and one fifth were working extra hours. The best options for solving the problem in the view of respondents was the ability to work from home more (27%) and adopt more flexible hours (25%). The desire to have flexible hours was particularly pronounced for those respondents who live in London, with 38% citing this option. Childcare also emerges from the study as a chief priority among working parents. Three-quarters (75%) of respondents say they would assess childcare options before taking on a new job or promotion. The figure is higher among women, at 81%.

Main image credit: Anan Kaewkhammul/Shutterstock Inc.
modern slavery  human trafficking  low-carbon  electric vehicles  timber  deforestation  plywood  well-being  workplace 

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