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New research to expose “the disaster trade”

Smoke from brick factories in Bangladesh

A project which will expose the links between climate change and international trade has just received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DfID).

The Disaster Trade project has just received £150,000 to examine the interdependencies between climate change, poverty, modern slavery and the international trade in construction materials.

The project, which began in April 2020 and will run for 12 months, will investigate the undocumented carbon emissions, forced labour conditions, and environmental impacts of brick production in Bangladesh and Cambodia, and demonstrate how these are both hidden and supported through their export to the UK.

The research is being conducted by an international team led by Royal Holloway University London.

Dr Alice Moncaster, Senior Lecturer in General Engineering in the OU’s Faculty of Science, Technology and Mathematics, said:

'This highly significant project will expose 'the disaster trade', through providing clear demonstration of the links between climate change and international trade and how they act to multiply negative impacts for those experiencing vulnerability and poverty.  The ultimate aim is to effect a radical change in UK policy and construction industry practice, using our trade power to move towards increased social and environmental justice worldwide'  

It builds on ESRC-DFID Development Frontier projects, Blood Bricks in Cambodia and Safe and Sustainable Cities in Bangladesh.

The highly interdisciplinary team includes expertise in poverty and vulnerability in Cambodia and Bangladesh, and in the carbon impacts of construction materials. Bringing together construction industry stakeholders and academics, the project will introduce practices associated with lower carbon, socio-economic and wider environmental impacts, into brick manufacture operations in the global South who are already exporting to the UK, and support emerging environmentally and socially positive start-ups. Within the UK the project will demonstrate to stakeholders from the construction sector and government how climate change and trade intersect as a threat multiplier amongst those experiencing vulnerability and poverty, with an aim to effect a radical change in UK policy and industry practice. 

Other collaborators are the University of Exeter and the University of Dhaka, supported by the Brick Development Association, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commission and the World Green Building Council.

Find out more OU research in engineering.

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