Anti-Slavery Funding Snapshot: A New Study Shows Growing Momentum

How does the buying and selling of human beings like commodities continue to occur in this modern, intelligent, and increasingly connected world? As we all know, laws can only accomplish so much. And with millions of men, women and children currently living their lives in servitude, those laws are clearly not doing enough. But a global movement against this is growing.

In September 2015, world leaders adopted the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, overall, aim to end poverty, combat inequality and injustice, and confront climate change by the year 2030. Among each of those SDGs are specific targets, and Target 8.7 calls for taking “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers.” Target 8.7 also aims to end child labor in every form by 2025.

Including anti-slavery and anti-trafficking measures on the global development agenda is a significant step for many reasons. Not only does it advance the global dialogue and raise public awareness about the pervasiveness of slavery and human trafficking, but it also holds participating country governments accountable for establishing and implementing their own national frameworks on how those goals are to be achieved.

Related: Funding the New Abolitionism: Who’s Giving to End Modern Day Slavery?

But the public sector is just one of the many stakeholders in combating human slavery and trafficking. And it can’t feasibly reach SDG Target 8.7 by 2030 without buy-in from the private sector including civil society and NGOs.

While there are a decent number of NGOs committing their energies here, the majority of funders are failing to support efforts to combat human slavery. However, according to a new study backed by two prominent anti-slavery NGOs—the Freedom Fund and Humanity United—things just might be looking up.

"Funding the Fight Against Modern Slavery: Mapping Private Funds in the Anti-Slavery and Anti-Trafficking Sector: 2012-2014" breaks down funding in anti-slavery and trafficking space by year, region, and subsector. The goals of the study are many, not the least of which is addressing funding gaps, identifying promising trends in grantmaking, and generating an increase of sustained global support. You can read the report in its entirety here, but in the meantime, here some highlights:

  • More funders are joining the fight. There has been a significant increase in the number of new funders joining the field, including large NGOs such as Gates and CIFF as well as comparatively smaller outfits like Kendeda and the Pegasus Liberty Foundation.
  • Financial commitments are growing. Of the organizations that participated in the study, nearly 60 percent increased their funding from 2012 to 2014, with nearly one-quarter of them upping their support by more than 100 percent over the same period.
  • Money is being directed to where it’s needed most. Walk Free’s 2014 Global Slavery Index reported Asia and Africa as having the highest prevalence of enslaved people in the world. The study revealed a “strong emphasis” on grants directed to combat slavery in both regions.

So, overall, more funders are dedicating more money to anti-slavery and trafficking causes with an emphasis on the more problematic regions of the world. Note that while there was a funding emphasis on Asia and Africa, the largest portion of grants were either “global in scope or covered multiple regions,” according to the study.

Related: Humanity United: Grants for Global Security and Human Rights

This is good news, as anti-slavery and trafficking funding continues to remain a low priority when compared to other global health, development, and humanitarian challenges. Especially when considering the scope of global slavery problem.

By many accounts, there are more slaves today than at any time in human history and twice as many now as there were during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And slavery is big business in the modern world—the International Labor Organizations puts its global economic value at $150 billion annually. Slavery is illegal in every country in the world. Not just the poor countries. Every country in the world.

However, as the world becomes increasingly aware of the sheer volume of people who are bought and sold every day, the collective outrage grows stronger and the global voice against slavery and trafficking grows louder. And that statement isn’t simply sentiment. Kate Kennedy the Freedom Fund’s managing director, North America, told Inside Philanthropy,

As well as increased funding we are experiencing an incredible moment of global momentum in the area of anti- human trafficking. Including a mobilizing of world religions, new regulatory frames by UK and US governments and greater and deeper monitoring by private sector of their supply chains. 

Kennedy also said that anti-slavery and trafficking funding must continue to grow “to reduce the disparity between the current global funding from government and private actors to the estimated $150 billion USD profits from the criminal trade.” But she adds that even though funding has been limited here, the important progress and impact thus far are “to the great credit of philanthropist giving in the area.”

At this moment, there are an estimated 21 million to 36 million people around the world living in servitude. Around one out of every four of those human beings are children. That works out to roughly 5 million to 9 million kids who are living their lives as slaves or in slavery-like conditions. This is happening regardless of the fact that slavery is illegal in every country in the world.

While the modern abolitionist movement is gaining momentum, it still needs more participants and a lot more resources to achieve impact at scale.