Most people in the United Kingdom think that slavery was abolished in the 19th century because of the work of courageous abolitionists like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln. Sadly however, slavery still flourishes globally today, and every country is home to this crime.
In the UK, the National Crime Agency estimates that at least 13,000 people are currently enslaved in this country alone – forced to work in brothels, on constructions sites, in car washes and on farms. The global nature of the supply chains that produce the goods we consume means we’re all linked to the exploitation that happens overseas. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Burma or Cambodia are trapped and forced to work on Thai fishing boats to produce the seafood that we eat, while in the Congo, children as young as seven are mining the cobalt that powers our mobile phone batteries. The list only goes on.
Modern slavery is known by many names – forced labour, human trafficking, domestic servitude – but the essence is the same: men, women and children have lost their freedom and are being exploited for profit. The latest global estimate by the United Nations and Walk Free Foundation calculates that over 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery worldwide. It is jarring to hear this, given that most of us thought slavery was eradicated a long time ago.
With a crime as old and prevalent as slavery, it’s reasonable to ask whether we as individuals can actually make a difference in fighting to end it. The answer is yes. Together, we can break the back of modern slavery. At the Freedom Fund, we believe the that the time is ripe like never before to end slavery, and we have several reasons for optimism.
For the first time in th history of the fight against human trafficking,slavery is illegal everywhere. It is illegal under international law and in every country. Modern slavery is a crime against humanity, and people no longer need to be persuaded of slavery’s evils.
Political leaders are also increasingly making ending slavery a priority. Prime Minister Theresa May called modern slavery the “greatest human rights issue of our time” and promised UK leadership in the fight against slavery. Successive U.S. presidents have declared the fight a priority of their administrations. This year, Australia is expected to pass a Modern Slavery Act aimed at tackling forced labour in supply chains. Hong Kong and New Zealand may follow shortly.
It is also no surprise that religious leaders across the spectrum have denounced modern slavery as morally abhorrent. Last year the Pope tweeted, “We call on all people of faith and good will to take action and oppose modern slavery in all its forms”, and has backed this call by committing the Catholic Church to the effort. Archbishop Justin Welby has done the same with the Anglican Church. Islamic, Jewish, Hindu and other faith leaders have joined the call to action.
And finally, global businesses have also gotten involved in the discourse, with companies like Apple, Walmart and Unilever publicly acknowledging the pervasiveness of slavery and committing themselves to taking steps to eliminate these abuses from their supply chains.
We welcome these positive developments, but we also recognise that there is always more to be done. We need to focus our efforts on supporting the fight against slavery in those countries and industries where it thrives most – such as brick kilns in India, brothels in Nepal, the fishing fleets of Thailand and migrant routes from Syria and Ethiopia, to name but a few.
Here at Freedom Fund, we are committed to doing just that. Our mission is to mobilise the knowledge, capital and drive needed to once and for all end modern slavery. We partner with committed local organisations in countries with the highest prevalence of slavery, and we invest in programs aimed at sustainably liberating victims and preventing those at risk from being exploited in the future. We always bring in teams from leading research institutions to measure the effectiveness of our interventions and to ensure we are working in the most beneficial and efficient way, and then share what we have learned with the wider anti-slavery community. Our model brings local organisations together in networks that multiply their collective impact.
We at the Freedom Fund are proud to say that this approach works. Since the Freedom Fund began operations four years ago, we and some 100 frontline partners have helped liberate over 16,000 people from slavery, helped get some 36,000 at-risk children back into school, and directly engaged with over 390,000 men, women and children vulnerable to slavery. We are directly impacting and changing the systems that keep millions in slavery around the world. Our ambition is to free many more people than we can reach directly, by supporting our frontline partners in their growth towards becoming influential advocates for change. When we link these local efforts on the ground with the high-level commitments from broad political, religious and corporate sectors, we can affect real change.
While these numbers and efforts are important, they mean so much more when you think of the very real individuals they represent. We have a long way to go to break the back of the horrendous crime that affects 40 million people around the world, but the global anti-slavery movement has real momentum – momentum that is steadily increasing. We hope you will join us and be a part of this movement, because only through working together, can we end modern slavery.