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Turning outrage into action: using strategic litigation to combat modern slavery

Press release
December 15, 2015

London, 15 December: A new report released today calls for the use of strategic litigation to combat modern slavery. The report, “Ending Impunity, Securing Justice: Using Strategic Litigation to Combat Modern-Day Slavery and Human Trafficking,” provides a roadmap to create an international strategic litigation network to punish and deter human traffickers.

Nick Grono, CEO of the Freedom Fund, which co-published the report, put the move in historical context:

“Strategic litigation broke the back of the British slave trade. In 1772, advocates brought the first in a series of anti-slavery civil cases. The cases played a key role in ending the British slave trade. Nearly 250 years later, advocates are returning to that abolitionist playbook”.

The report, jointly published by the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center and the Freedom Fund, draws on insights gleaned at a convening of leading human rights lawyers, advocates, and litigators from around the world. The meeting, held in London in May 2015, focused on lessons learned from successful human trafficking litigation. The experts who attended the meeting expressed a commitment to eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery in global supply chains.

“Strategic litigation can be a catalyst for genuine, long-term change,” said Nick Grono, CEO of the Freedom Fund. “It offers a powerful means to hold both states and private actors accountable for gross human rights violations. It can allow victims to obtain compensation, force government action, drive legal reform, punish perpetrators, and compel action by businesses to end or prevent abuses.”

With short summaries of cases pending in courts around the globe, the report provides a snapshot of current litigation efforts, as well as the potential for future legal advocacy. The report is particularly critical of the dearth of criminal prosecutions for these gruesome abuses.

Martina E. Vandenberg, President and Founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, stated, “States have failed spectacularly to prosecute forced labor. Human traffickers enjoy near absolute impunity for their crimes. The U.S. Department of State estimates that prosecutors brought just 418 forced labor criminal cases in the entire world in 2014. With millions held in servitude around the globe, human rights lawyers must act.”

The report credits investigative journalists and human rights researchers for their key roles in documenting modern slavery. As Vandenberg stated, “There can be no doubt: investigative journalism underpins some of the most ambitious modern slavery litigation currently pending in the courts. Recently we’ve seen reporting in the New York Times, Associated Press, and Guardian exposing slavery in the Thai fishing industry. Stories like these inspire innovative lawyering designed to litigate these abuses out of existence.” Strategic litigation aimed at eradicating slavery in supply chains increases the risks for perpetrators. As transnational, strategic litigation ramps up, the perception of risk should deter would-be traffickers.”

The report also acknowledges the importance of local non-governmental organization activists in providing support to victims.

Finally, the authors point to the need to make cases matter beyond the courtroom. “Cases must have an impact beyond the individual litigants. We seek systemic change. With a global litigation strategy built on international partnerships, we can marshal community support to end modern slavery,” stated Grono.

Media Contact
Laura Harrington
+44 203 077 2222

About the Freedom Fund
The Freedom Fund is a philanthropic initiative designed to bring much-needed strategic focus and financial resources to the fight against modern slavery. With an expert team and global perspective, the Freedom Fund aims to raise $100 million by 2020 for smart anti-slavery investments in the countries and sectors where it is most needed.

Its approach is to focus on hotspots—defined geographic regions with a high concentration of slavery—and target resources to frontline organisations closest to the problem.

Its country-based experts visit high-risk areas to identify the grassroots partners and systemic initiatives that are having the biggest impact in protecting those at risk from slavery, enabling liberation and recovery of those already enslaved, and bringing those responsible to justice. It works closely with partners to help them improve their results and rigorously measure their outcomes.

About The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center
The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center empowers trafficked women, men, and children to seek justice. HT Pro Bono leads national efforts to hold human traffickers accountable for their crimes and to raise awareness of victims’ rights.

By linking trafficking victims with highly-skilled pro bono attorneys, HT Pro Bono works to obtain criminal convictions, criminal restitution, and civil judgments against traffickers. With pro bono legal assistance, trafficking survivors can rebuild their lives.

Photo: A day way labourer carries a load of bricks in a brick kiln in Baruhuaa village in Chandauli district of Uttar Pradesh, India. The workers are entitled to get INR 180 ($3) per 1,000 bricks but the contractor only gives INR 80 – INR 100 ($1.25 – $1.70). Credit: Sanjit Das © Legatum Limited 2015

Written by
The Freedom Fund