The main crux of my story is that one of the 2 mcs - Delilah- is from a group of people being exploited, and the other is the son of the leader of the group doing the exploiting - Jack. Delilah is helping people leave the situation they're in, but the people doing the exploiting send Jack under cover to try and stop it. (Obviously, he then has character development, and we follow as he changes for the better and all that good stuff.)
Exploited people are leaving their situation, resulting in a lack of work being done by that group. The exploited group (once rested and feeling restored) take advantage of their exploiter's weakened state, and the country ends up going into civil war.
It's set on a small archipelago, 'Island Union', with the exploitation happening (mostly) to the north of the central island, by the south of the same island.
What I'm looking for
What I'm stuck on is the specifics of what exactly the exploitation is. (I'd rather it not be to be too similar to any one specific instance of irl exploitation. I don't mind so much if it's more similar to the exploitation that's happened within the British Isles, since I'm from the UK, and much of the rest of the setting and culture is heavily inspired by the UK.)
I think it would be good if it's the main source of income for the I.U. I think that might help make a juicier internal conflict for Jack, as well as give him a somewhat less terrible reason to be doing this.
Things I've thought of
- Lithium mining. this is what I was initially thinking of, then I figured the worker would need to be highly trained for that, and it wouldn't work for a series of 5 tiny islands.
(Edit: The main reason I thought maybe not this is, I had a couple readers think it didn't make sense for a tiny island to be able produce enough lithium for other countries to be interested in buying it. The island has to be tiny. For story reasons, they need to walk to where they are to where they need to go. I was thinking ~5/6 days walk from east to west, so ~144 miles - and probably about 75 from north to south. Li mining typically uses large evaporation lakes, and requires a large amount of space. Granted, there were a couple other things some of them said that made me think it would be fair to ignore their specific feedback, but that was a doubt I was already having.)
Coal mining, but I'd rather it be modern if it can be, and that didn't seem to fit with the way things are going, climate wise, but it might work in a 'its terrible conditions for the workers, who have little other choice in the matter, AND it's bad for the climate!' might work.
Food source The northern half has excellent farm land, but terrible coastlines for sea fairing, and the south is the other way around, finding it almost impossible to feed themselves with their own farming, relying on sea trade as well as northern farms. I did think this might be a good way for it to work. In many ways, I want the I.U. to be of some note to the rest of the world, and this doesn't offer that. However that might have the benefit of explaining why the rest of the world might not get involved with the later civil war (which would make things simpler for me!)
I would really appreciate any input anyone could offer! I often find it hard to see which might be best or think of any other ideas. These are just the things I've thought of. If there's something not listed that jumps out at you, I would love to hear it!