It was at this time last year that the unflinching portrayal of America’s slave trade, the Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave, was released to theatres. The most salient moment is that of Solomon Northup, the freeborn African American kidnapped into slavery, hanging – noose around his neck – from a tree, feet barely touching the muddy ground, while life on the Louisiana plantation continues as normal. While modern slavery may be less visible, that does not limit its prevalence or the extent to which the world turns a blind eye. At 27 million, there are more slaves, across every national boundary, than at any other point in human history.
It is a shock to many to discover that slavery is not only thriving criminal enterprise, but that it is the third most profitable, bringing in US$ 150 billion per year. To turn a profit, people are controlled and exploited through forced marriages, forced labour, sex slavery, bonded labour, domestic servitude, and as child soldiers. Yet, its extent remains outside of the public consciousness. In Canada, for example, as little as 5% of the population is aware of the continued practice of slavery. While there have been extensive and committed efforts at eradication, this work is underfunded and fragmented, with no globally coordinated strategy. The Freedom Fund is aiming to not only change that reality, but to raise awareness and to measurably reduce slavery by 2020.
Founded by Humanity United, Walk Free Foundation and the Legatum Foundation, the Freedom Fund – the first private donor anti-slavery fund of this magnitude – is combining knowledge and capital to end modern slavery. How will they achieve this extensive ambition? The goal is to raise US$ 100 million, of which the founders have already contributed 30%. The research it funds will help to effectively select and invest in existing and new anti-slavery initiatives. Combining international governance and perspective with community-based projects, the Freedom Fund is providing a channel to speed action and facilitate collaboration, coordination and inspiration. 
Their work combines on the ground work in geographical ‘hot spots’ – areas with a high prevalence of slavery – while also addressing systemic issues, building networking communities, and developing resources that extend beyond the Freedom Fund’s own work. Projects that receive investment work to reduce risk, rescue and rehabilitate, and persecute those responsible, such as is being done by Pragati Gramodyog Sansthan and the Mahila Development Center. Additionally, the fund recently released the Global Modern Slavery Directory, a publicly available searchable database of 770 organizations working against modern slavery.
It is too early to determine the extent to which this fund will measurably reduce modern slavery, but it is certain that the founders have the necessary expertise, dedication and courage to take on this venture. There remain some concerns, such as whether their ability to focus on the micro details will be negatively affected by the expansive scope and reach of their project.
They are going against an extremely profitable criminal enterprise, and there will be resistance to their work. But by creating a sustained source of funding and providing activists, experts and donors with a platform to learn and share best practices, they are building collaborative alliances that enable them to stay one step ahead. The Freedom Fund is far more comprehensive than anything that has been attempted as of yet. And there is hope in a project with this much ambition, credibility and vision.
This issue should be relegated to the history books. Let’s ensure that happens.
For more information, visit the Freedom Fund website.