Identifying the Predators
The abolition of slavery as a Sustainable Development Goal marked a milestone for the fight against modern slavery when countries put differences aside to make a high-profile statement. But that joint initiative hardly guaranteed that the anti-slavery effort would continue its forward momentum.
Where will the world be by 2030?
Constraints in our Systems
The same factors that constrain the freedom ecosystem—gaps in data collection, limited funding, and a challenging policy environment—leave opportunities for predators to further propagate the cycle of enslavement. The allies’ adversaries include: Predators, such as:
- Traffickers and slaveholders who knowingly engage in the practice of enslaving others as part of a criminal enterprise. These include organized crime groups such as the Central American gangs that press youths into prostitution and drug running. Additionally, slaveholders can be individuals. Right outside the Washington, DC, beltway, Theresa Mubang enslaved 11-year-old Evelyn Chumbow, forcing her to work as a domestic cook and maid. She forbade Evelyn to attend school and victimized her with physical and psychological abuse.
- Complicit profiteers who are not directly engaged in slavery itself but profit from the forced labor of others. For example, in just 19 months, Raquel Medeles Garcia earned more than $1.6 million by renting the upper floor of her Houston cantina to pimps forcing trafficking victims—underage girls—to work as prostitutes.
A Path to 2030 and Beyond
“How many slaves work for you?” Blunt as it may be, this question speaks to a harsh reality. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), more than 21 million people are globally enslaved. These individuals are victims of the world’s fastest-growing illicit industry, generating an estimated $150 billion of illegal profits each year. From the overseas supply chains of our favorite products to domestic workers in our own neighborhoods, we all directly and indirectly touch slavery, and by working together can help abolish it.
While the problem of modern slavery is a persistent and hidden crime, those working to end it are crippled by three significant challenges: prevailing gaps in collecting and sharing data, limited resources to address slavery, and a challenging policy environment.
Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to addressing such a complex and resilient problem. Rather than seeking silver bullets, organizations looking to contribute to the eradication of slavery should aim to take incremental steps to improve the status quo. In that spirit, a community of cross-sector individuals and organizations has coalesced into a “freedom ecosystem.” The freedom ecosystem comprises a dynamic and diverse network of actors, with the shared goal of removing the conditions that allow slavery to persist and empowering slavery’s victims and survivors to own their personal path to freedom. Anti-slavery allies from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors converge to advance freedom in the face of predators and accomplices who engage in the illicit networks that allow slavery to persist.
Through collective action, these allies are working to confront the individuals and institutions that perpetuate slavery, liberate victims, support survivors, and educate the public. The very persistence and even growth of modern-day slavery indicates both the problem’s complexity and its resistance to many of the initiatives currently in place. It will likely take the entire freedom ecosystem—businesses, governments, NGOs, academia, multilateral organizations, private investors, civil-society groups, and consumers—working together to abolish practices that challenge the best intentions to promote a freer world.
Through a series of interviews with experts from across the freedom ecosystem, extensive secondary research, and analysis of successful collective-action examples, we have identified three elements that allies should apply in collaborating for increased progress.
Align on common goals:
Allies develop a clear understanding of the question they are trying to solve and collectively determine how the issue fits within the larger effort to end slavery. A clearly defined and scoped problem translates into clear partnership goals and objectives that can drive and measure an initiative’s progress.
Build mutual ownership:
Allies often identify their optimal contribution and align roles accordingly. These roles include identifying ways to absorb the costs associated with launching and sustaining partnerships, which require investments of time, energy, and money. By committing to clear functional and investment-related responsibilities, allies develop the foundation needed for a successful partnership.
Create scalable solutions:
Allies often use a variety of means to encourage progress, including open-sourcing initiatives, encouraging the formation of additional partnerships, and designing platforms that help amplify adoption of effective interventions. All of these lead to sustained growth of initiatives beyond the initial program, ultimately benefiting the entire freedom ecosystem.
There is cause to be cautiously optimistic. Collective action across the freedom ecosystem has already had a noticeable impact, and is only beginning to realize the sheer scale and scope of its transformative power. By striving to realize these recommendations, allies from across sectors and functions can begin to address the daunting data, funding, and policy challenges they face. Creating a professional association, mobilizing resources through strategic alliances, and uniting around a common policy agenda will help create the needed infrastructure to perpetuate and reinforce future change.
All allies have an important role to play—from energized activists new to the anti-slavery field to NGOs with decades of on-the-ground experience to corporations navigating the complexities of supply chain regulations to concerned consumers trying to buy ethically sourced products.
We all touch slavery—knowingly or unknowingly—and play a role in ending it. Together the freedom ecosystem can write slavery into the history books, creating a freer world.