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Funding the fight against modern slavery

April 1, 2016

Between 20.9 and 35.8 million people live in slavery-like conditions today, around one in four of them are children. The ILO estimates that unscrupulous criminals, preying upon the most vulnerable and marginalised people, enjoy profits of up to $150 billion each year — three times the global sales of Coca-Cola.

Though these numbers may seem overwhelming, a modern abolitionist movement is growing—governments, NGOs, corporations, and individual activists are coming together to fight this global scourge.

A new report, “Funding the Fight Against Modern Slavery,” jointly produced by the Freedom Fund and Humanity United, reveals that, between 2012 and 2014, $233 million in private funds were used to combat slavery in all its forms. Encouragingly, the report also found that funding to anti-slavery initiatives is growing—up 13% in 2013, and 57% in 2014, compared to 2012—and that new donors, large and small, are joining the movement.

In addition, a 2014 report by Walk Free, published in The Anti-Trafficking Review, found that the donor nations in the OECD, nations like the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden, are increasingly directing more aid toward this issue. Between 2003 and 2012, these countries contributed a combined average of $124 million annually, mostly funding initiatives in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

What remains to be seen is the impact of all this funding on the ground. Better data is needed on the extent and cost—both human and economic—of slavery and of the effectiveness of interventions on the ground. Also needed is a deeper understanding of what geographic areas and types of anti-slavery efforts—e.g. those that fight bonded labor or domestic servitude—might be underfunded.

Despite significant investments, private sector funding is also fragmented and insufficient to address the enormity of the problem. The anti-slavery community needs to increase efforts to work strategically and collaboratively. It is our hope that the data collected in this report will provide an opportunity to deepen the conversation among funders, NGOs, and other key actors, and will be a useful tool for all those committed to fighting slavery around the world.

Image: Girls work at a “dancing club” in the Tamel neighbourhood of Kathmandu, Nepal. Credit: Katie Orlinsky © Legatum Limited 2016

Written by
Kate Kennedy