The Anti-Slavery Collective in conversation with Luke de Pulford

Luke de Pulford

While we have been working from home, our co-founders, HRH Princess Eugenie of York and Julia de Boinville, have been seeking to find out and share how COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of the anti-slavery movement. This time, we are joined by Luke de Pulford, the director of Arise.

Arise focuses on long-term preventative work, addressing the root causes of slavery. For this reason, Arise has totally transformed their operations to become an emergency relief fund during the pandemic to respond to varying global needs. They have been providing food and supplies to the frontline organisations with whom they normally work to tackle modern slavery. This humanitarian relief has become the “new normal” of anti-slavery prevention.

Whilst the pandemic has presented huge difficulties, it also affirmed the belief on which Arise is based: it is necessary to fund and support frontline organisations and networks who make a real impact where it is most needed.

Over the last few months, the world has recognised the inspiring and self-sacrificing work of those on the frontline, whether that is the NHS workers who care for us or the sisters of Talitha Kum who fight modern slavery. These frontline groups have until now, as Luke says, been overlooked and underfunded. As Luke illustrates in his story of hope, frontline anti-slavery organisations have an unrivalled position in their communities that makes them a valuable, but often untapped resource. When building back from this pandemic, we should look to them.

Arise’s Emergency Relief 

In response to COVID-19, Arise quickly established a dedicated fund to provide small grants to the frontline organisations and network with whom they usually work to confront modern slavery and human trafficking. They have made over 80 grants to support these organisations in providing essentials, such as food and water, to communities that were already vulnerable to exploitation. 

Go to Arise’s website to find out how you can support their emergency relief efforts.


According to the UK government statistics, 1,705 Albanians were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) as potential victims of modern slavery in 2019. Albanians were the second most commonly referred nationality after UK nationals. Arise supports frontline organisations working in vulnerable communities, such as the Roma and Balkan Egyptian communities, to tackle the issue of human trafficking at the source. 

The people in these marginalised communities often live below the poverty line and in cramped, unsanitary conditions. This makes them particularly at-risk of contracting the virus. As Luke tells us, COVID-19 has exacerbated the already high levels of poverty and unemployment in these marginalised communities. This makes them more at-risk of being trafficked and enslaved. 


Luke explains that India has not yet reached the peak of the outbreak. Instead, the current crisis there is famine. As we have heard before in previous conversations, many Indians fear starvation more than the virus itself. Therefore, Arise is supporting frontline groups, who are best placed to feed these communities. 

“Many frontline groups have, for example, leveraged their ties to local government authorities, negotiating concessions to deliver vital food parcels or establish food banks, sometimes with the assistance of the police. Others have made agreements with local grocery stores to implement food stamp systems, and have begun issuing them to vulnerable families.”

‘For developing countries, the threat of lockdown far outweighs the threat of the virus’ (Arise)

To find out more about their response, check out Arise’s ‘Feeding a nation through lockdown’ photo essay that depicts the courage and devotion of frontline responders to whom the “unthinkable task of feeding the Indian people has fallen.” 

After Lockdown

Whilst some forms of modern slavery have spiked during this period, such as Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC), normal methods of exploitation have been disrupted due to restrictions on movement, transport and work. Luke urges us to realise that the real risk of modern slavery will come after lockdown. As restrictions are lifted, there will be a huge demand for cheap labour and a huge population of desperate and vulnerable workers; this will create a perfect storm for modern slavery.

In our previous conversation with Walk Free, we focused on the plight of migrant workers during lockdown, many of whom are stranded in precarious situations faraway or undertaking perilous journeys to return home. However, the extreme vulnerability of these migrant workers does not end once they are finally home; Luke points out that those who have returned home are now unemployed and without income. This is disastrous for both families and countries that heavily depend on remittances. The desperation and poverty that results from mass unemployment and a lack of income is known to be a key driver of modern slavery. 

Lessons from lockdown

The world has learnt some hard, but important, lessons during COVID-19. The clearest lesson to Luke is that the frontline, who are often overlooked and unsupported, are hugely powerful and necessary to ending modern slavery. 

Without resilient communities, we will not end it. Those people on the frontline are our hands, and our feet, and our hearts.

Luke de Pulford

It is on this premise that Arise operates. Arise recognises that the frontline organisations and networks make a real impact where it is most needed, enabling exploited people to move towards liberation, and creating the conditions for stronger laws to be implemented. 

This pandemic has exposed the lack of corporate accountability in global businesses. The disruption to supply chains has shone a light onto the people at the bottom of our supply chains. This has revealed how brands often prioritise profit over people, yet are not answerable to the labour abuses and exploitation in their own supply chains. Luke uses the example of the reports of forced labour in Chinese cotton production. It has been reported that China is holding more than a million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in massive camps in Xinjiang, forcing them to produce cotton that is used by major western brands. 


Arise was established in 2015 to confront modern slavery by developing and supporting networks of frontline organisations around the world. Like The Anti-Slavery Collective, collaboration is at the heart of what they do. Arise finds and develops dynamic alliances with networks of frontline abolitionists, catalysing and developing their work by giving financial support or helping to deliver essential help on the ground. Arise also offers advice, administrative or capacity building support to build the power of the frontline organisations. 

Go to their website to find out more.

What do you think?