‘Into the Light’ by Grace Forrest – Founding Direct, Walk Free Foundation

Grace Forrest portrait picture

40.3 million people live in modern slavery globally. 

25 million of those people are in forced labour. 

15 million are in forced marriage. 

Women and girls account for 71 percent of all victims. 

25 percent, or one in four, victims are children.

These statistics are an incredibly powerful tool in the fight against modern slavery. By measuring the problem, we can better understand where and how it exists, and the steps we need to take to resolve it.

The international human rights organisation I co-founded – Walk Free Foundation – is responsible for crunching and publishing these numbers in partnership with two UN agencies and we use them to encourage political, business, faith and civil society leaders to act.

But alone, these statistics aren’t enough to spark the immense global activist movement the world needs to end slavery for good. 

Along with the statistics, we must also share the reality of this problem, in words and images that best reflect the people at the very heart of it – the victims and survivors of modern slavery. 

Stories are an important tool in social change because they have the power to shape the way people interact with the world around them. Stories can make us hope, think and feel compassion. Stories can inspire action. When we become emotionally involved in a person’s experience, it can remind us of the human impact of an issue and motivate us to consider what we can do to help. After discovering a sinister child trafficking ring in Nepal in 2011, the personal stories I encountered led me to co-found the Walk Free Foundation at 18. I am now 25.

As a young, 21st century abolitionist, I am fortunate to have experienced so many of these stories first hand. My work has taken me all over the world – to refugee camps in the Middle East, enslaved communities in India, and exploitative fishing vessels in Thailand, to name just a few.

When I travel to these places, I spend time with people who have fallen victim to modern slavery, have survived it, or are at high risk of it. I listen to their stories, ask them questions, share meals with them and play with their children. I become a part of their world for one small moment. And, with their permission, I document their experiences and take their photographs.

When I leave, I try to take their world global. I exhibit the photographs, speak at conferences and sit down with journalists. My work also regularly takes me to the offices of presidents, and the boardrooms of some of the world’s largest corporates. And it is here I share the statistics and stories, hand in hand. 

I believe that when someone is equipped with an understanding of the enormous scale of modern slavery, as well as its truly devastating personal impact it has, they then have the information and the impetus necessary to grasp this issue with both hands and make a real difference.

We have seen this in the United Kingdom and Australia, where impassioned individuals have led the implementation of national legislation which holds companies to account for slavery in their supply chains. We have seen this in India, which as a nation has nearly halved the number of girls getting married over the past decade by increasing education opportunities and raising awareness of the issue. And we have seen this in the leadership demonstrated by big corporations such as Walmart and Adidas, which are becoming more active and vocal on eradicating slavery.

Each of us has the power to make the world a better place. Every time we make a consumer choice, vote for a political party or endorse a brand on social media, we have an opportunity to make a positive or negative impact on the world. 

Understand the statistics. Listen to people’s stories.

Statistic: there are 40.3 million people living in modern slavery.

Story: you have the power to change a life like this little girl’s.

little girl standing in shadow
Caption: INTO THE LIGHT by Grace Forrest
“Sometimes I wish I could be a boy. Then I could just work, working is ok. When we get to a certain age, or look a certain way, other things are expected of us. Being a boy seems so much more simple.”
into the light exhibition
Grace Forrest’s photograph Into the Light as part of an exhibition of her photography called Unravelling Slavery in Sydney, October 2018.

walkfreefoundation.org | @graceaforrest | @minderoofoundation

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