Financing the Fight Against Modern Slavery

Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Modern slavery generates profits of $150 billion a year for its perpetrators, who unconscionably exploit vulnerable children, women and men around the world for financial gain. Yet the resources devoted to combat this most evil of crimes are paltry compared to the scale of the atrocity.

This is despite the fact that slavery is a crime under international law, and illegal in every country. It is vociferously condemned by faith leaders, most notably Pope Francis, and political leaders. Yet it continues to thrive in every country, with over 35 million enslaved globally, a quarter them children.

The richest countries in the world – members of the OECD – between them spend perhaps $120 million each year to fight this evil. There are current, welcome, efforts in the US Congress to scale up the funding available to fight slavery, but much more needs to be done.

Thankfully, private funders are rallying to the cause. In 2013 three leading foundations – Humanity United, Legatum Foundation and Walk Free Foundation – each committed $10 million to create the Freedom Fund  the world’s first private donor fund dedicated to ending modern slavery. President Bill Clinton celebrated this commitment, declaring “This is a huge deal and we should all support this.”

The Freedom Fund launched in January last year, and quickly attracted support from two other foundations, the Stardust Fund and C&A Foundation, each committing millions to the anti-slavery effort.

And this week, the Freedom Fund has announced a partnership with Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). This British philanthropy will grant $10 million over five years to the Freedom Fund to scale its anti-slavery work, with a particular focus on tackling the exploitation of children.

Collectively these resources will enable the Freedom Fund to increase its support to local organisations around the world on the frontlines of the fight against slavery. Supporting such organisations is key, because they work at the very heart of the problem, in countries with a high prevalence of slavery, such as India, Nepal, Ethiopia and Thailand. These frontline groups are often staffed by those formerly enslaved. They work in the vulnerable communities and amongst the marginalised populations that the perpetrators prey upon. They know the victims, the traffickers, the corrupt and the honest officials. They work close to the brothels, factories, quarries, brick-kilns and myriad of other places where the victims are exploited.

Yet despite their commitment and impact, these local organisations are often under-resourced, too overwhelmed to effectively coordinate, and often lacking the training that will enable them scale their work. The Freedom Fund helps address these challenges by bringing its partners together in clusters, known as hotspots, where they can work more effectively together to advance the cause of freedom. It also monitors their work and measures their impact, and commissions some of the world’s leading research institutes – such as the Harvard’s FXB School of Health, the London School ofHygiene and Tropical Medicine and Health, and the Institute of Development Studies – to rigorously evaluate these efforts and report publicly on their findings, to the benefit of the wider anti-slavery community.

This work is already demonstrating its impact. In Northern India, our longest running hotspot, the Freedom Fund’s programs have liberated 2920 people from slavery during the first twelve months of operation, and placed over 8200 at-risk children in school, a major life-change which will significantly reduce the risk of them falling into modern slavery in the future.

These are important results, most obviously for those liberated from bondage and servitude. But given the size of the crime, these efforts will need to be scaled very significantly to drive a measurable reduction in slavery. Much more research is needed to measure the size of the problem globally, and from country to country; to identify the most impactful interventions; and continually improve efforts to stamp out this crime. And much greater resources will be needed to replicate the most successful implications around the world.

All of this requires more funding, both private private and public. Given the abhorrence which all right-thinking people have for slavery, and the limited funds currently available to fight it, this should not be an insurmountable problem. Western governments are certainly well-placed to increase the funding they provide, and thereby match the rhetoric of their leaders on this issue, but have been slow to respond.

In the meantime, as with the fight against the slave trade in the 1800s, private funders will continue to provide leadership in this most historic of human rights causes – the movement to end slavery.

Nick Grono (@nickgrono) is the CEO of the Freedom Fund. Previously he was CEO of the Walk Free Foundation and, before that, Deputy-President of the International Crisis Group.

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