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Modern female slavery is still a major issue, here's how you can help

If you don’t acknowledge an issue, then it doesn’t exist.

05 Sep 2019

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“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” The words of William Wilberforce from 200 years ago – when he was fighting to abolish the slave trade in the UK – rang true for me aged 15, when I visited Nepal on a service trip. While there, I was working with children - some as young as three - who had been rescued from child sex trafficking.

I was so moved by the people I met and worked with that I decided to return to the same shelter after I had finished school. However, when I did, I found that the children I had met had disappeared without a trace. Sadly, a practice all too common for institutionalised children, with trafficking through and from orphanages a major issue in our space.

This experience fundamentally shifted my perspective of the world, as well as my place in it. How was it possible that in our lifetime the circumstances for children across the world could differ so horrifically? The very concept of slavery and enslavement seemed historic, a shameful period of history long behind us. And yet it was there in front of me; not just any man-made tragedy, but the most profitable organised criminal industry in the world.

After returning from Nepal, I felt a deep responsibility to do something.

This is why my father and I decided to establish the Walk Free Foundation, an international human rights group with a focus to end modern slavey in our lifetime. Our aim is to collaborate with a multitude of partners and areas of influence to address slavery where it occurs, as well as dismantle the drivers which allow it to continue.

One of Walk Free’s major achievements has been raising awareness of how widespread modern slavery is, and how many different forms exist in the world today. From forced labour, to forced marriage, commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking, baby trafficking, organ trafficking and state imposed forced labour. Before Walk Free, the information available was limited, fragmented and politicised.

In many of the countries we travelled to, the term ‘slavery’ wasn’t recognised or discussed, and yet the practice was everywhere. If you don’t acknowledge an issue, then it doesn’t exist – that was the logic we came across regularly.

We need to be unapologetic in our mission to end slavery and having the terminology acknowledged and accepted is a critical part of this. If certain governments or businesses weren’t willing to own the problem, then we raised our voice to the rooftops.

In 2013, Walk Free launched the Global Slavery Index, now in its fourth edition and recognised as the leading data set globally for measuring slavery and government responses to slavery. This world-leading research found that there are more people living in slavery in the world today than any other time in human history. We know what forms of slavery exist, where they exist and which countries are importing goods at risk of being produced by slaves. We have collaborated with UN agencies to co-create the world’s first agreed estimate of slavery globally – 40.3 million men, women and children were living in modern slavery in 2016, with 89 million people having experienced some form of slavery in the last five years.

We are working with business to identify and stamp out slavery in supply chains. Walk Free is the secretariat of the Bali Process Government and Business Forum, which brings together prominent business leaders from across the Asia-Pacific to develop strategic solutions to tackle transnational crimes, including modern slavery. Some of the companies engaging in this process include Walmart, Nestle, Adidas and Thai Union.

We are addressing slavery on the frontline with The Freedom Fund, now the world’s leader in strategic community driven liberation. In just 5 years we have reached half a million vulnerable people, put more than 45,000 at-risk-children in school and directly freed more than 21,000 people from slavery.

While these results and our strategy are having an impact, the last thing we can do is become complacent. If we are to meet the 2030 SDG on ending slavery, we would not only have to completely dismantle all the modern drivers of this horrendous issue - but also liberate 10,000 people a day until then. If we truly want to be the first generation ever to live without slavery, then we need the world’s leaders to fully acknowledge this problem and unite against it. We call on all governments to look for slavery inside their borders (slavery exists in every country in the world), all businesses to look deep into their supply chains, and on all individuals to make a difference in whatever way they can. Using consumer power and putting your money behind brands which elevate human rights is a fantastic start. Even by just ensuring your morning tea or coffee is fair trade, you are voting for the kind of world you want to live in.

Social change doesn’t have to be led by an NGO, it can be championed by business, social enterprise, community groups, legislation, photography, art, music or food. Anything that helps brings people closer to the realities of others. Our reality is that there are over 40 million people living in modern slavery, and that slavery only exists in the world today because we allow it to. We must ensure that every one of our consumer choices isn’t supporting exploitation. Together we can fight for freedom and ensure we are the last generation to allow slavery to continue.