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Freedom Fund Interventions Result in 80 Percent Reduction in Bonded Labour

Press release
September 22, 2019

Multiple evaluations find Freedom Fund’s labour interventions stop abuses, protect workers and change structural conditions to keep families out of bonded labour in northern and southern India

New York – A new report found that a five-year intervention campaign to protect workers in India backed by the Freedom Fund, which works to mobilize the knowledge, capital and will to end slavery, was effective at reducing debt bondage and other forms of exploitation, cutting the percentage of families in bondage from 56 percent to 11 percent in the fund’s focus areas. “Unlocking What Works: How Community-Based Interventions Are Ending Bonded Labor in India,” presents the findings of four leading institutions – including Harvard University and the Institute of Development Studies – that the Freedom Fund’s interventions were effective at stopping labour abuses, protecting workers and changing the structural conditions that enable unfair labour practices.

“Taken together, these evaluations affirm that the power to end modern slavery lies in frontline communities themselves,” said Nick Grono, CEO of the Freedom Fund. “Our programs are having a direct impact in the communities our partners are working in, and they are successfully building on this community-level work to positively change wider policies and systems.”

The Freedom Fund identified areas where high incidences of bonded labour were occurring in northern and southern India. It invested $15 million in more than 40 local organizations to conduct direct interventions to protect workers, improve government and business responses, and change the conditions in these “hotspots.”

The NGOs, funded by Freedom Fund, used their local knowledge and connections to effectively change the conditions for indebted families, enabling them to free themselves from their exploitative labour conditions and reducing the risk for other families. Freedom Fund grantees conducted know-your-rights trainings for those currently in bonded labour; created community savings groups as alternative sources for loans; invested in women’s financial self-help groups; formed community committees to bargain collectively with employers and create avenues for workers to address grievances; and enabled these informed and empowered community groups to push local government to enforce the law and intervene in exploitative situations. As one of the survivor leaders explained: “The biggest freedom I have is the strength to speak out about our issues”.

In the hotspot in northern India, where whole families of workers are at high risk of debt bondage in brick kilns, quarries and agriculture, Freedom Fund provided $10.7 million for 25 NGOs serving more than 180,000 workers and their families.  In southern India, where garment workers are at risk, Freedom Fund provided $5.2 million in funding for 20 NGOs serving more than 93,000 workers and their families.

Five external evaluations of the Freedom Fund’s interventions were conducted by Harvard University‘s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights; the U.K. Home Office; the Institute of Development Studies; and the Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices. The findings of their evaluations all confirm the effectiveness of the Freedom Fund’s interventions.

The evaluations found that within the villages in northern and southern India where Freedom Fund invested:

  • The prevalence of households in bonded labour fell from 56 percent to 11 percent in our 1,100 target villages across northern and southern India
  • This reduction in prevalence is equivalent to 125,000 fewer people in bonded labour across the two hotspots
  • The percentage of households in our target areas with children in bonded labour fell from 13 percent to 1 percent in northern India, and from 12 percent to 3 percent in southern India
  • Households had 55 percent more savings and 31 percent faster wage growth thanks to the interventions
  • Child marriages and school dropouts in southern India fell by more than half during the intervention period

“The intervention led to reduced household debt, increased household savings, higher wage growth, increased access to medical care, increased use of government schemes and improved household food security,” wrote the Harvard evaluators who reviewed the work of a core Freedom Fund partner in northern India, MSEMVS.

The evaluators from the Institute of Development Studies concluded that the Freedom Fund’s approach,  “using a variety of community-based interventions, mobilization and organization, is particularly effective in reducing the prevalence of bondage.”

To be connected with the leadership of the Freedom Fund to discuss the report further, please contact Meredith MacKenzie, [email protected], (202) 412-4270.


About the Freedom Fund

The Freedom Fund is a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery. We identify and invest in the most effective frontline efforts to eradicate modern slavery in the countries and sectors where it is most prevalent. Partnering with visionary investors, governments, anti-slavery organisations and those at risk of exploitation, we tackle the systems that allow slavery to persist and thrive. Working together, we protect vulnerable populations, liberate and reintegrate those enslaved and prosecute those responsible.

Written by
The Freedom Fund