The supply chain of violence

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Every year, more people are killed defending the environment than are soldiers from the United Kingdom and Australia on overseas deployments in war zones combined. During the last 15 years, the number of both deaths of environmental defenders, and the countries where they occur, have increased. Recorded deaths have increased from two per week to four per week over this period. These deaths are primarily related to conflict over natural resources, across a range of sectors. Of 683 total deaths, >230 were related to mining and agribusiness between 2014 and 2017. We find that rule of law and corruption indices are closely linked to patterns of killings. Using spatial data, we investigate the drivers of these conflicts and violence and seek to identify who may be most at risk and why. We argue that businesses, investors and national governments at both ends of the chain of violence need to be more accountable.

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Fig. 1: Typology of violence.
Fig. 2: Key natural resource sectors driving violence and deaths.
Fig. 3: Global overlay of environmental defenders’ deaths (2014–2017) and natural resource drivers.
Fig. 4: Rule of law overall score.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request, and were sourced from the following organizations. For environmental defender deaths, see For area harvested, see For intact forest, see For mining concessions, see For major dams, see For rule of law index, see

Change history

  • 21 August 2019

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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We are grateful to B. Kyte, B. Leather and others at Global Witness for data provision and earlier discussion, to H. Beyer and A. Chauvenet for advice and help with data analysis, and B.A. Simmons for assistance with graphics. Thanks to the many environmental defenders we have worked with, interviewed and learned from. N.B. is supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Award DE150101552.

Author information

N.B., F.L. and M.M. planned the work. A.R. and N.B. analysed the data. All authors contributed to the writing.

Correspondence to Nathalie Butt.

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