The freedom ecosystem How the power of partnership can help stop modern slavery

Slavery is nearer than most people think, from the supply chains of everyday products to domestic workers in US neighborhoods. A coalition of activists, nonprofits, and companies aims to bring the issue of forced labor out of the shadows and work toward lasting solutions.

Introductory letter

At first glance, Deloitte—the world’s largest professional services firm—and Free the Slaves—a DC-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to ending modern slavery—seem like strange bedfellows. The Deloitte authors of this paper spend their days serving government, commercial, and civil society clients as practitioners of Deloitte Consulting LLP, while Free the Slaves is busy building the capacity of local service providers around the world to help prevent the conditions that allow slavery to exist. However, despite different organizational missions, we are united around a common purpose of examining what is working in the fight to end modern-day slavery.

Over the past year, Deloitte and Free the Slaves have coupled our individual organizational strengths to work toward ending modern slavery.

Deloitte’s journey began in 2011, when a traditional data-analytics project with a federal law-enforcement agency led us to recognize that we could use our capabilities to help address this global challenge. The Deloitte team—led by passionate practitioners interested in changing the world—began using our convening power to bring together business, government, academia, and social enterprise to address human trafficking. Enter Free the Slaves.

Over the past year, Deloitte and Free the Slaves have coupled our individual organizational strengths to work toward ending modern slavery. Through interviews with leaders across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, which we call the “freedom ecosystem,” we identified the imperative of cross-sector collaboration to help achieve this ambitious goal. This paper, in fact, demonstrates just that, and is a small example of the endless possibilities found within the freedom ecosystem. We know tackling this challenge will not be easy, but we hope this paper inspires you to join the freedom ecosystem as an ally working to realize an increasingly free world.

WHO this report is for

Global citizens. It offers change makers a framework for the collective action needed to accelerate progress in ending slavery. Members of the private sector, civil society, government, funding community, academia, and the broader public can use the collective-action framework to advance the fight against slavery.

WHAT the report is not

This report is not an analysis of the fundamental root causes of slavery, a comprehensive review of current anti-slavery efforts, or a holistic approach toward its eradication. Instead, it highlights bright spots and offers stakeholders a starting point to think about collectively tackling the challenge.

WHY the report was created

The year 2015 marks the 15-year anniversary of Free the Slaves, an international NGO whose mission is to liberate those in slavery and change the conditions that allow slavery to persist. While reflecting on their organizational history and charting their future, Free the Slaves’ leadership collaborated with Deloitte Consulting to assess the current state of anti-slavery efforts and the organization’s optimal contribution. Through both Deloitte and Free the Slaves’ experience, we identified a need for greater collaboration across sectors to advance the fight against slavery and sought, through this report, to identify a path forward.

HOW the report was created

In close collaboration with Free the Slaves, Deloitte Consulting interviewed more than 30 leaders involved in anti-slavery efforts, including representatives from government, NGOs, academia, survivors, the private sector, and funding organizations. The interviewees featured in this report are a sampling of the global leaders in this field.

We used the findings from this qualitative study to examine, categorize, and dissect collaborative efforts that have proven effective in order to offer guidance on how, together, we can move toward an increasingly free world. We have aimed to use the most reputable quantitative data sources available, notwithstanding the data-collection challenges in the field.

Executive summary

“How many slaves work for you?”1 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.2 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.3 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.4
  • 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.
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.

By incorporating these elements of collective action, allies from across sectors can establish an infrastructure to help reinforce future change: creating a professional association for joint learning, mobilizing resources through strategic alliances, and uniting around a common policy agenda. By coming together and finding a collective voice, allies can energize the freedom ecosystem and move toward a freer world.

Introduction: The path to 2030

In a world largely divided by partisan lines and ideological differences, few issues garner unanimous support. A global commitment to end slavery by 2030 has now been enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by consensus at the United Nation General Assembly. This goal—both ambitious and urgent—must extend beyond a declaration of intent into the collective consciousness and actions of government, business, and civil society. Are we prepared to rise to this monumental challenge?

Most estimates of global slavery fall between the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) count of 21 million and the Walk Free Foundation’s estimate of 36 million.5 Despite this monumental scale, many people reserve the word “slavery” for history books. The harsh truth is that the number of people enslaved today is twice as many as all the individuals enslaved during the entire 350-year period of the transatlantic slave trade.6 The faces of modern slavery include domestic workers, hotel housekeepers, restaurant staffers, farm and factory workers, sex workers, and many more.

“Slavery” carries such brutal connotations that its use may seem hyperbolic, but often conditions for slaves today are no less harsh than they were in centuries past. Take, as an example, Samart Senasook, who spent six years in life-threatening conditions on a Thai fishing vessel. Samart was forced to work 20-hour days and was unable to escape after the boat’s captain confiscated his identification.7 Closer to home for American readers, a child-prostitution ring lured middle-school student Katariina Rosenblatt—on vacation with her family at a Miami Beach hotel—and held her captive under threats of violence.8 Although Samart and Katariina’s stories highlight different types of slavery, they demonstrate a shared violation of human rights, with individuals treated as property.

Survivor Spotlight: Katariina Rosenblatt

Katariina went on to earn Master of Law and doctoral degrees, and her dissertation informed her 2014 book on human trafficking in America. She works alongside federal law enforcement and trains religious leaders and volunteers to identify and support victims in their communities. Katariina founded There is H.O.P.E. for Me, a nonprofit organization that strives to offer healing, opportunity, purpose, and empowerment for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.


21st-century slavery

What is modern slavery?

  • The United Nations’ Palermo Protocol defines trafficking in persons as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

How big is the problem?

  • Figures range from the 21 million estimated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to the 36 million estimated by the Walk Free Foundation.

Where is slavery happening?

  • Though illegal everywhere, slavery was identified in each of the 167 countries examined in the 2014 Global Slavery Index.

Who is enslaved?

  • According to the ILO, 55 percent of slavery victims are women and girls.

Who is profiting?

  • The ILO estimates that slavery generates $150 billion for traffickers, and that victims of forced labor lose at least $21 billion each year in unpaid wages and recruitment fees.

Sources: Carol S. Brusca, “Palermo Protocol: The first ten years after adoption,” Global Security Studies, summer 2011, vol. 2, issue 3,, accessed May 29, 2015; Global Slavery Index 2014,, accessed June 1, 2015; International Labor Organization, “Forced labor, human trafficking and slavery,”, accessed May 8, 2015.

Although no issue as complex as modern slavery can be reduced to numbers, the data paints a clear picture: Slavery is the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprise and the second-largest illicit industry behind drugs, making an estimated $150 billion in illegal profits annually9—more than the gross earnings of the five biggest oil companies.10 Yet resources to fight this immense problem are scant. The 12 leading Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) donor countries together spent an annual average of $124 million combating slavery for the period between 2003 and 2012, less than 0.1 percent of their annual overseas-development assistance.11 While this may not account for all spending to fight slavery, it is indicative of many states and organizations’ low level of investment aimed at fighting a $150 billion problem.

The freedom ecosystem

In the face of the growing complexity and pervasiveness of this challenge, a diverse network of actors is fighting back. A community of cross-sector allies—including at-risk communities, survivor groups, government, academia, business, and NGOs—interact in both organized and fragmented ways to tackle slavery as the “freedom ecosystem.” While we provide additional detail on this group in part II, it is important to appreciate how this coalition of anti-slavery allies can work together: At-risk people and survivors mobilize to safeguard their freedom, NGOs invest resources in mobilizing communities to protect themselves from predators, academia provides policy makers with research on trafficking hot spots, and government teams up with technology experts such as Google and Palantir to grapple with the issue’s severity.12 Functioning in different ways, these allies unite within the freedom ecosystem to reduce slavery’s prevalence and support slavery victims and survivors.

The Freedom Ecosystem defined

The freedom ecosystem is the dynamic and diverse community of actors that is centered on slavery’s victims and survivors with the shared goal of empowering these central actors to own their personal path to freedom. This ecosystem is composed of victims, survivors, and anti-slavery allies from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors converging to advance freedom in the face of the opposing slavery predators and accomplices who engage in the illicit networks that allow slavery to persist.

Part I: Where are we today? Why there is no silver bullet

Largely through the work of the freedom ecosystem, activists have made significant progress in mobilizing global action against slavery. From a state of denial, leaders and policy makers around the world have increasingly acknowledged that a serious and widespread violation of basic human rights persists. International and national policy has changed, as exemplified by the adoption of the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol and the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. Governments have begun to earmark financial support for anti-slavery programs, albeit at modest levels. These examples highlight a slow but growing acknowledgment from leaders of the magnitude and persistence of modern-day slavery.

Yet there must be acknowledgment that progress has been limited; slavery persists due to a tapestry of social, political, and economic challenges. In the ILO’s words, for perpetrators, “Forced labor remains a low-risk and high-gain industry.”13 Mobilizing a more effective response to slavery requires an understanding of the barriers to action; it demands an understanding of new behaviors that allies in the freedom ecosystem must exhibit to increase collaboration and accelerate progress.

The many faces of slavery

Modern slavery manifests in forms as diverse as the communities it plagues, targeting individual populations and societal vulnerabilities in unique ways. In the slums of India, Dialu Nial, desperate for work, accepted a job only to find himself an indentured servant at a brick kiln.14On the other side of the world, in Haiti, many children within the restavèk system, Creole for “staying with,” are sent to live with other families as domestic servants. Ideally, the child is treated as a member of the host family and enrolled in school. However, this unfortunately is not always the case. Powerless, subject to unpaid domestic service, and deprived of their most basic rights, children abused within the restavèk system are prevented from receiving education and unable to realize their true potential.15

From factories to farms, slavery occurs in many places and each country struggles with ways to inhibit slavery. The crime’s different forms often drive anti-slavery actors to concentrate on specific types of slavery (figure 1) and pushes the broader ecosystem to use an array of terms to describe each manifestation—slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, and forced marriage, among others. Recognizing that each of these represents a form of slavery is critical, since context-specific historical, cultural, and political conditions also shape the language used to discuss slavery and the resulting range of terminology can lead to fruitless definitional and conceptual debates. While each individual organization can and should focus on fighting a specific form of slavery, this limited lens can prevent actors from engaging in broader collaborative efforts that might serve shared goals.

DUP_1195_Figure 1. The many faces of slaveryPhoto credit: Free the Slaves/Callahan

Without a standard lexicon with which to discuss modern slavery, activists struggle for clarity and perspective as they try to tackle a full spectrum of symptoms and causes. Our approach attempts to address this definitional issue head on by offering a collective-action framework centered on building the scale and connectivity of anti-slavery efforts across the freedom ecosystem.

Barriers to overcome by 2030

While some allies within the freedom ecosystem are in fact working past definitional differences and combatting slavery together, this is unfortunately not the norm. Despite having unique strengths and skills—whether multinational corporations’ global reach or local NGOs’ expertise on community-based models—many allies build initiatives in silos. These divisions perpetuate constraints that hinder progress in this space: prevailing gaps in collecting and sharing data, limited resources to address slavery, and challenging policy to prevent slavery and protect victims.

Prevailing gaps in collecting and sharing data

Slavery persists and even thrives in communities close to home, but it does so in the shadows, making it difficult to collect robust information, and the lack of data on the dynamics and prevalence of slavery prevents a shared understanding of its size and scope in all of its forms. Global estimates are contested, and localized studies are needed to capture slavery’s prevalence in individual communities. This dearth of baseline data makes it difficult to identify the complex needs of at-risk populations and survivors, craft responsive strategies, understand how best to serve affected populations, and measure progress over time. Additionally, as individual organizations work to address slavery, they tend to develop programs and initiatives in isolation, collecting limited amounts of standardized data on programs targeted to a specific type of slavery in a designated region. The resulting absence of a common understanding around monitoring and evaluation impedes the freedom ecosystem from demonstrating a collective theory of change. However, these gaps in data should not stall progress or provide an excuse for inaction. In the words of Timothy McCarthy of the Harvard Kennedy School, “Harriet Tubman did not wait around for a proper measurement of how many slaves were in the South. Neither should we. The work needs to be done while we try to measure it.”16

No one should conflate these evidence gaps with a deficit of experience and learning. As practitioners have gained considerable and hard-won experience, a body of literature has begun to emerge; what is missing are the structures and forums for sharing that experience on a consistent basis so that activists can agree on standards of leading practices.

Limited resources to address slavery

As previously stated, the leading OECD donor countries currently mobilize less than 0.1 percent of their annual overseas-development assistance to combat slavery. This $124 million investment pales in comparison with an illicit industry that grosses an estimated $150 billion in profit. Insufficient collaboration among anti-slavery actors further dilutes the impact of these limited resources (figure 2).17 The inevitable competition for funds helps generate new ideas but unavoidably brings negative externalities—in particular, modestly sized anti-slavery NGOs frequently forgo partnership opportunities that can achieve efficiencies and realize greater possible impact. Meena Poudel, a Nepali scholar at the Post Trafficking in Nepal research project, argues that competition for funding can lead to territorialism among NGOs, as they focus on securing and protecting supportive constituencies rather than on improving outcomes for survivors.18

DUP_1195_Figure 2. The scope of the problem

“Harriet Tubman did not wait around for a proper measurement of how many slaves were in the South. Neither should we. The work needs to be done while we try to measure it.” Timothy McCarthy, Harvard Kennedy School

A challenging policy environment

Over the past 15 years, at both the international and national level, activists have made substantial progress in creating a legal framework for accelerated action against slavery. NGOs and governments have passed a number of conventions and laws, from the Palermo Protocol (international) to the Modern Slavery Act (national: United Kingdom) to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (US state). At the international level, Palermo encouraged the United Arab Emirates to build formal legal structures to outlaw most forms of trafficking, Albania to work with the Transnational Action Against Child Trafficking project, and China to make strides to prosecute traffickers.19 The UK Modern Slavery Act encourages businesses to take action to increase accountability and ensure their supply chains are slavery-free. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act—the first of its kind, going into effect in 2012 and influencing the later UK bill—requires companies doing business in California with more than $100 million in annual revenue to publicly disclose the degree to which they are addressing the risks of slavery in their supply chains.20

While each of these policies signifies progress, laws and commitments do not enforce themselves, and rhetoric often exceeds reality. One need look no further than Palermo’s legal inability to penalize countries that fail to follow the law,21 the absence of protection for domestic workers enslaved in the United Kingdom,22 and the California law’s powerlessness to require changes to corporate policy.23 This gap in translating legislation to actionable steps led one of the California law authors, state senator Darrell Steinberg to pick up the mantle for the California Supply Chain Transparency Act. When crafting that legislation he noted that he never lost sight of the fact that “the most powerful laws are sometimes the simplest.”24

“There is always more that can be done, but it starts with creating a culture of trust and collaboration.” Maria Odom, US Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman and chair of the US Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign

Ending slavery requires policies that encourage victims to come forward without the possibility of facing jail time or fearing deportation. Victim-centered policy solutions could better protect survivors like Shamere McKenzie. Shamere was a 21-year-old US college student when she was trafficked into the commercial sex industry. Over the course of 18 months, Shamere was trafficked into five states and forced to earn a daily $1,500 quota from prostitution.25 The US Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, acknowledging the value of incorporating trafficking survivors’ perspectives, has included survivor input into training resources for both law enforcement and the public. Blue Campaign chair Maria Odom agrees that building an effective campaign starts with creating a culture of trust and collaboration.26

At an international, national, and local level, restrictive legal definitions, inconsistent enforcement, and lack of political will can create an environment where policies fall short of tackling slavery and supporting victims. It is imperative that freedom ecosystem allies build upon and support the policy achievements already complete, while continuing to advocate for improved laws and increased enforcement.

Survivor Spotlight: Shamere McKenzie

After years of being silenced, Shamere is now a survivor leader and advocate who uses her experience to improve that of others who are enslaved. She formerly worked at Shared Hope International, served on the DC Human Trafficking Task Force, and is a member of the National Survivor Network and the Survivor Leadership Institute. Shamere founded the Sun Gate Foundation to serve survivors and recently graduated from the Loyola University of Chicago.

Source: “Our C.E.O. Shamere McKenzie and her story,” Sun Gate Foundation,, accessed September 28, 2015.

The imperative for collective action

No organization acting alone can overcome these obstacles. Abolitionist organizations and activists sharing their goals need to build a heightened sense of belonging to a movement with a common purpose. This lack of a shared identity exacerbates the constraints facing the freedom ecosystem and hinders further progress. By understanding the role they play within the freedom ecosystem, anti-slavery allies can engage in collective action to begin filling gaps in data, working to increase available resources, and lobbying for better policies.

Part II: Where is the greatest opportunity? The freedom ecosystem: Identifying the cast of allies

In the San Pedro Sula region of Honduras, families are raising countless children in the face of limited educational and economic opportunities. The pressures of poverty—and entrenched economic and political forces—lead to widespread forced agricultural labor and commercial sexual exploitation of children, leaving an estimated 17,700 individuals trapped in slavery in Honduras,27 entwined in a complex socioeconomic knot. After the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran labor unions formally complained that the government refused to enforce labor laws, ILAB joined the effort to help raise the US trade partner’s standards.28 The Department of Labor issued a four-year, $7 million grant to World Vision, a nonprofit focused on reducing poverty and injustice for children in more than 100 countries.29 World Vision, in turn, incorporated the location-specific expertise of three Honduran nonprofits—CASM, Funpadem, and Caritas—with its own globally tested methodologies to develop a set of solutions tailored to the region. Together, this team of nonprofits is actively working to strengthen economic opportunities for vulnerable households, building local governments’ capacity to protect workers’ rights, and training individual workers for self-driven advocacy. This program, known as Futuros Brillantes (Bright Futures), is already making progress against slavery in San Pedro Sula through its comprehensive approach to changing the culture around labor rights.30

Futuros Brillantes put the freedom ecosystem to work, tapping the community members to serve in a variety of functional roles. The allies’ roles, defined below, address different parts of this ever-changing problem: Just as predators nimbly navigate the facets of slavery for their gain, so must anti-slavery allies that have survivors at the heart of their mission.

To be successful, the freedom ecosystem must infuse the voices of at-risk communities, slaves, victims, and survivors, bringing a survivor-centered approach to their efforts and paving the way for collective action. Those at risk of slavery, enduring slavery, or who have survived slavery must be at the heart of the freedom ecosystem if it is to flourish. Accordingly, the support of allies must be grounded in the principle of supporting and serving those struggling for freedom.

The power of ecosystems: From wicked problems to wicked opportunities

In our work with clients around the world, Deloitte has tracked the growing trend of business ecosystems, as organizations move beyond traditional industry silos and coalesce into closely intertwined networks that serve as a crucial focal point for innovation, analysis, and strategic planning. One of the largest benefits of business ecosystems is the ability to reframe “wicked problems”—complex, dynamic, and seemingly intractable social challenges (such as malaria, climate change, gun violence)—as “wicked opportunities” that can be attacked with renewed vigor through solution ecosystems.

DUP_1195_Figure 3. Anti-slavery allies of the freedom ecosystem

Within the freedom ecosystem, the whole (or collective) is greater than the sum of its individual parts. For example:

  • The Freedom Fund, a funder, invests in comprehensive intervention strategies in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, supporting 17 Indian NGO service providers to address all forms of slavery across 24 districts.31
  • Researchers, including Siddharth Kara, an adjunct professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, study sex-trafficking policies and help inform policy makers and enforcers such as the United Nations and the US government.
  • Delta Air Lines partnered with ECPAT, a service provider, to be the world’s first airline company to sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct in 2011.32
  • The US Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, a policy maker and enforcer, partners with Western Union, a global payment business, to train Western Union employees to identify potential cases of trafficking in financial transactions.33

The Freedom Fund, Kara’s research, and Delta Air Lines help demonstrate that when individual functional contributions combine, they can amplify the impact of a given initiative. Therein lies the freedom ecosystem’s power: its ability to unite multiple allies with complementary expertise to address slavery in ways that are beyond the capacity of any single organization or sector. Their diversity—and their collective ability to learn, adapt, and innovate together—are key determinants of longer-term progress.34

Identifying the predators

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.35
  • 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.36

Survivor Spotlight: Evelyn Chumbow

Evelyn is now an advocate and leader of the National Survivor Network and shares her story around the world to empower other survivors of trafficking and slavery. A wife and mother, Evelyn served as a consultant for Humanity United to inform recommendations for survivor engagement. She recently graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in homeland-security studies.

Accomplices, such as:

  • Misguided service providers that directly engage in supporting vulnerable populations, victims, and survivors without needed skills and training, ultimately causing more harm than good. For instance, some NGOs in Nepal rely on fear-based awareness campaigns: Street performers act out traffickers dragging young girls off to brothels and then dying of HIV/AIDS. These histrionics prompted parents in one remote Nepali village to pull their daughters out of school, for fear that traffickers would kidnap the girls if they left the house, perpetuating the cycle of illiteracy.37
  • Resource-reliant governments represent, for example, countries that devote limited resources to the problem and can do more as well as countries that have limited resources. In both examples, these countries fail to invest political will or adequate resources to identify and police slavery within their country. For example, while Malaysia has increased its preventative efforts, as indicated by the upgrade in the 2015 US Department of State’s annual trafficking report, the government could do far more: In 2014, there were fewer identifications of trafficking victims, fewer prosecutions, and fewer convictions than in 2012.38
  • Negligent businesses that resist scrutiny or turn a blind eye to slavery in their supply chains. Certain economic sectors, such as seafood, textiles, garments, and mining, are particularly prone to abuse in their supply chains. A failure to impose penalties on suppliers that engage in forced labor or refusing to invest in initiatives to address slavery—such as due diligence and employee compliance training—increases the risk to vulnerable workers and jeopardizes a company’s brand reputation.

These predators and their accomplices threaten the work of anti-slavery activists. However, collective action enables allies in the freedom ecosystem to amplify their individual efforts and offset predators’ progress. Working together empowers organizations large and small to contribute to a global understanding of what it will take to end slavery. Only then will the freedom ecosystem begin to overcome data, resource, and policy challenges and identify shared solutions.

From Identifying a Problem to Developing Solutions

In 2009, Coca-Cola’s workplace audits revealed that some bottlers were withholding migrant workers’ passports. The company developed a migrant-labor due-diligence checklist and began to roll out training tools to employees to help them better identify and report instances of forced labor. Stuart Kyle, director of workplace accountability, suggests that Coca-Cola’s policies are a reflection of company values: “We need to go beyond risk identification and protection; we need to look at our company’s DNA and ask ourselves: How do we want to do business?”

Part III: Collaborating for success: Understanding what works

Conditions of collective action

Forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry dates back to the Soviet era. Traditionally, government officials profit directly from the cotton harvest, removing any incentive for reforming the system. With individual Uzbek activists stymied, conscious consumers everywhere began pressuring manufacturers to source from slavery-free cotton, and more than 165 apparel companies pledged not to buy Uzbek cotton.39 This pressure motivated rapid change: In 2012, Uzbekistan banned the use of primary-school-age student labor.

How did consumer voices and individual activists translate into tangible changes in corporate policy? The Responsible Sourcing Network—an NGO and investor—convened a broad network of NGOs, apparel brands and retailers, investors, industry associations, and trade unions that shared a vision to end forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector. The problem of forced labor in the country’s cotton fields is far from resolved, but this collective effort highlights the powerful role that a coalition can play in beginning to uproot deep-seated slavery practices.

The campaign to end forced labor in the Uzbek cotton industry launched in 2008 and has taken years of leadership buy-in, trust, compromise, and a shared sense of urgency that a fresh approach was needed. In this case, the conditions were ripe for collective action; in others, simple awareness of complementary activities within the freedom ecosystem will suffice. To understand whether collective action is the most effective course for you and your organization, please reference the sidebar “Five questions to inform collective action” below.

Five Questions to Inform Collective Action

Collective action requires investments on a par with that of a healthy marriage: time and patience. Partnerships usually require diverting attention from an existing priority to an unknown venture, reallocating financial resources, and keeping organizational egos in check. Therefore, before jumping into a collective-action relationship, consider the following:

  1. Does the nature of the problem require collaboration? If the problem is well defined, if a known answer currently exists, or if organizations already have the competency and capacity to implement the solution, then collective action is not the answer. Reserve collaboration for complex initiatives, unknown answers, and situations where no single entity has the resources to execute the solution.

  2. Is there a collective-action champion? Bringing interested parties to the same table does not necessarily translate into effective collaboration. For a large-scale partnership to take root, leadership from across all participating organizations should prioritize the initiative. The absence of an influential advocate sets up the partnership for potential failure.

  3. Can you offer adequate financial and/or personnel resources to support the initiative? Your organization’s role in the collaborative engagement will require a monetary and/or human-capital investment beyond your own work. If you are unable to make this additional investment, avoid collective-action initiatives, as you can handicap your partners from reaching a desired end goal.

  4. Is there trust between the participating organizations? Organizations should not expect trust to develop instantaneously—by nature, it manifests over time. Reconsider any collaboration that requires partnering with organizations where deep-seated differences exist and leaders are uninterested in reaching a middle ground. Collective action depends heavily on mutual trust and a willingness to put turf wars aside to advance a larger mission.

  5. Where to focus first? When entering the anti-slavery space, allies should begin by pooling sources and tackling the three leading issues we’ve discussed: lack of data, limited funding, and inadequate policy. After addressing those challenges, actors can move toward developing solutions and new approaches to particular crises—for example, national security threats and immigration challenges, as seen with the Rohingya migrants trafficked from Myanmar to Malaysia.

As anyone with experience in coalition politics knows all too well, joining in collective action can be challenging. It requires relinquishing control, introduces uncertainty, and demands time and commitment. Successful partnerships do not occur spontaneously; they require a culture that fosters connectivity. Through interviews with experts from across the freedom ecosystem, extensive secondary research, and analysis of successful collective-action examples, we have identified three factors that allies must apply in collaborating for increased progress:40

  • 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 broader 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.41
  • 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 find ways to encourage growth of their initiatives through a variety of means. Examples include open-sourcing solutions, 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.

Under these conditions of collective action, actors have found novel ways to address the shortage of data, limited resources, and challenging policy environments that hinder the fight against slavery. By examining bright spots of how collective action addresses these challenges on a programmatic level, we can extract valuable lessons that can advance the work of the freedom ecosystem. The examples that follow provide a clear message: Major change happens only when diverse actors overcome isolated interventions and pursue greater connectivity.

Collective action at work

Improving data collection and sharing


Technology is integral to the freedom ecosystem’s work—and to slavery’s perpetrators. Predators rely on the Internet, using forums, chat services, and online job postings to lure victims into trafficking rings and attract customers.42 The scale of this business is massive, with predators spending an estimated $250 million to post more than 60 million online advertisements in a recent two-year period.43 Traffickers have become increasingly sophisticated in using the Web to hide their activity; even when caught, most avoid conviction due to a paucity of robust evidence. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime found that 40 percent of countries reported fewer than 10 slavery convictions between 2010 and 2012.44

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recognized the difficulty of tracking illicit activity on the “dark Web”—the 90 percent of the Internet that conventional search engines, such as Google and Bing, don’t index—and funded Memex, a search engine that maps the dark Web by detecting spatial and temporal patterns.45 Through a series of grants, DARPA convened 17 research organizations, including Carnegie Mellon University, and businesses to help create Memex. The first application of this tool has been to scour the Internet for information about human trafficking, linking criminals to the temporary advertisements and peer-to-peer connections they use to lure victims and promote their sexual exploitation.46 DARPA has deployed this tool with policy enforcers, working with the New York County District Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Program and local law enforcement. By using Memex, these policy enforcers have generated 20 active trafficking investigations and have identified new evidence sources for eight open indictments.47 Dissecting this partnership among funders, researchers, businesses, and policy enforcers illuminates the anatomy of effective collective action.

By using Memex, these policy enforcers have generated 20 active trafficking investigations and have identified new evidence sources for eight open indictments.
  • Align on common goals: Perhaps one of the Memex program’s most remarkable aspects was the diversity of the actors that came together to create the program: 20 organizations from the federal government, local law enforcement, academia, and business partnered to develop, test, and use the technology. Each partner derived value from participation in the development of the technology: DARPA procured a valuable tool for the US defense community, researchers developed artificial-intelligence technology with crossover potential (for example, into the robotics space), and businesses used Memex to help inform new product development. That said, partners had a clear understanding of how their individual contributions fit into the broader initiative, understanding the utility and limits of the Memex program. This is particularly evident in their acknowledgement of how the technology fits into broader solutions for the space; Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance noted, “We’ve had the most success with this effort when we married traditional field intelligence with the information this provides.”48
  • Build mutual ownership: Each actor contributed different strengths to the Memex program. DARPA leveraged its expertise as a convener of researchers to contract the 17 academic and business researchers to develop and test Memex, while also serving as a funder, helping defray the costs of building this extensive research network. DARPA then brought in the New York attorney general to evaluate the viability of using Memex to catch traffickers. The partners neither became siloed nor swam into each other’s lanes; each had a clear understanding of its responsibilities and unique expertise, particularly given the complexity of analyzing this data set. According to program manager Chris White, connecting online ads to real-world predators is incredibly difficult, requiring analysts getting “involved to do interpretation and make decisions. DARPA just creates the tech, and organizations adopt the technology to use it.”49
  • Create scalable solutions: The Memex program encouraged partners to build on ideas, leading to the development of more initiatives to address online trafficking. DARPA funding helped Carnegie Mellon enhance its research and provided a three-year, $3.6 million contract to Marinus Analytics, a spin-off company, to build Memex-based tools to help law enforcement combat sex trafficking.


No matter where you live, chances are that modern slavery is happening in your neighborhood. Although local organizations strive to identify and help victims, challenges in collaborating across state and organizational lines prevent victims from receiving the continuity of care needed to support their successful transition from victim to survivor.50 In response, Polaris, an anti-slavery nonprofit, developed the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). This national hotline allows witnesses and victims of trafficking to report tips, request help, and connect with anti-trafficking services. Between December 2007 and May 2015, Polaris has received nearly 90,000 calls about human trafficking and closely related issues and reported almost 6,000 cases of potential trafficking to local law enforcement, identifying nearly 20,000 victims of modern-day slavery.51 The complexity of cases and sheer volume of data make it difficult to immediately respond to those who are calling.

To help manage the flood of calls and data, Polaris partnered with Silicon Valley-based software company, Palantir Technologies, known for products that handle and connect large amounts of data. Palantir linked the NHTRC hotline to Polaris’s national referral database, allowing for rapid responses to victims’ urgent calls and providing nearby emergency-response resources.52 By using Palantir’s geospatial analysis capabilities and custom-built Palantir applications, NHTRC call specialists are able to quickly locate resources to connect victims with emergency and long-term services. Additionally, Polaris’s data analysts can harness the data collected on the calls to help identify trends and patterns and shed light on how human traffickers operate.

  • Align on common goals: Polaris, a nonprofit focused on disrupting the conditions that allow human trafficking to thrive, and Palantir, a software development company whose central business is data analysis tools, were able to align on the importance of providing rapid support to victims of slavery, given the overlap in their organizational core missions. Establishing this end as “true north” helped pull these organizations together to create a unique initiative.
  • Build mutual ownership: Polaris recognized that if it were to successfully scale a program as ambitious as the NHTRC, it would need to engage partners who could help connect, manage, and quickly analyze its data. Palantir was a natural fit, given its broad and advanced data tools, and it quickly married its technical expertise with Polaris’s deep understanding of slavery and victim support. The principal partners—Polaris, Palantir, and Salesforce—invested the energy and staff time required to yield a successful outcome, while Google helped provide thought leadership around building the analytic capability. This symbiotic relationship drove the success of the NHTRC program.
  • Create scalable solutions: Given the success of the NHTRC, Polaris began working to expand the solution beyond the United States. Partners have begun to export and share the data infrastructure they have built with other anti-slavery hotlines, “open-sourcing” tools and lessons to create solutions that reach beyond borders. This model also attracted the attention of Google, which contributed $3 million through the Global Impact Awards to expand this solution internationally.53 The partnership has started this process by advising and partnering with additional service provider NGOs, hotlines, and government agencies in North America, Central America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.54

Increasing resources to address slavery


Supporting victims and survivors is one of freedom ecosystem members’ most critical roles. Two prevailing gaps must be closed to help prevent survivors from being dragged back into slavery: First, survivors need housing options, such as emergency shelters and short-term stays; once their shelter is secure, victims need long-term economic prospects to provide a path to independence. These solutions, like all those serving victims and survivors, should be evidence-based.55 Given the shortage of resources and difficulty identifying evidence-based solutions, activists tend to focus on the urgent task of sheltering victims rather than working toward developing new, innovative options.

For this reason, Humanity United, a nonprofit focused on advancing freedom, brought several US government agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, into a public-private partnership focused on developing new initiatives to help support victims and survivors. The resulting Partnership for Freedom, funded in part by Goldman Sachs and the Righteous Persons Foundation, is in the process of launching three innovation challenges to help address victim support. By using a prize mechanism, the Partnership for Freedom is able to incentivize experts from diverse fields to enter the anti-slavery space and create new solutions to one of the most difficult problems the freedom ecosystem faces.

Given the shortage of resources and difficulty identifying evidence-based solutions, activists tend to focus on the urgent task of sheltering victims rather than working toward developing new, innovative options.
  • Align on common goals: Humanity United’s convening of experts across the field led to a clearly scoped problem definition in the first innovation challenge. The Partnership for Freedom agreed on the importance of strengthening critical services for trafficking survivors in their local communities and generating new information that allies can use to develop effective approaches to combating modern slavery. By establishing rules that prioritized new, measurable community-based approaches through the creation of partnerships, the Partnership for Freedom was able to incentivize the creation of effective solutions, receiving 162 ideas from organizations in 39 states to improve services for survivors. Through selection criteria that screened ideas for creativity, attainability, and sustainability, the partnership whittled these ideas down to 12 finalists.56 These teams were coached through a workshop and judged by luminaries in the field, resulting in the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Freedom Clinic and the Safe Shelter Collaborative taking home a total of $1.77 million in funding to pilot their solutions.57
  • Build mutual ownership: Humanity United used its ability to convene key stakeholders around this problem, not only by creating a public-private partnership but by developing a competition that mobilized and aligned government and funders. These policy makers and funders let Humanity United take a leadership role in the design and execution of the challenge, lending their names, expertise, credibility, and finances at points where they would be most valuable. By providing the critical seed funds and incentives to both encourage innovation and foster partnership, Humanity United demonstrated a commitment to involved partners, who were then empowered to sustain the program after the competition ended.
  • Create scalable solutions: This initiative was particularly effective because the innovation challenge required teams to create partnerships in order to compete. The program incentivized sustainable, long-term partnerships by allowing competing organizations to organically choose whom they wanted to team with, rather than actively playing a top-down role as a relationship broker. MGH will use the $600,000 it received to establish a pioneering model of comprehensive primary and preventative health care services for trafficking survivors, while the Safe Shelter Collaborative will receive $1.17 million to increase access to appropriate, supportive shelters for trafficking survivors.58 This is a collaborative effort between the Polaris Project, New Jersey Department of Children and Families, and Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup Global. The project uses technology to locate and provide immediate shelter services to survivors as well as working to broaden the base of organizations that can house survivors.59 The Partnership for Freedom encouraged innovation and expanded the imagination of the anti-slavery field; even the ideas that went unfunded are now in the consciousness of the freedom ecosystem, conditioning allies to think about victim support services in new, effective ways. While this positive externality of knowledge production is hard to measure, it is incredibly real and can be used in other parts of the field.


According to the Global Modern Slavery Directory, more than 1,000 organizations and hotlines are currently working on issues of human trafficking and forced labor.60 With so many actors and such limited funding available, how can allies align resources for targeted interventions that produce maximum results? Humanity United, Legatum Foundation, and the Walk Free Foundation—three of the largest private anti-slavery investors—asked just that. They each committed $10 million to establish the Freedom Fund as the “world’s first private donor fund dedicated to ending modern slavery.”61 Their goal is simple: Raise an additional $70 million by 2020 and invest this funding in high-impact organizations working in hotspot regions. In 2014, the Freedom Fund provided $1.44 million in grants to 17 organizations as part of its Northern India program, and the numbers speak for themselves: 2,193 victims liberated, 4,996 micro-enterprises started, and 7,743 at-risk children now attending school.62

  • Align on common goals: Humanity United, Legatum Foundation, and the Walk Free Foundation have each committed millions of dollars to fight slavery but realized that their individual investments were not enough in the face of a $150 billion industry. By joining together and focusing their efforts on hotspot regions63—“defined geographic regions with a high concentration of slavery”—these investors and the convening force of the Freedom Fund serve as a model for uniting under a shared initiative to address the resource gap.
  • Build mutual ownership: Slavery’s hidden nature and its ability to thrive in the world’s most vulnerable communities make it difficult for large investors to identify the most effective local service providers to support, especially from distant offices in New York and London. By analyzing and investing in local organizations that have a proven record of accomplishment in their communities, the Freedom Fund shares its investment power with under-resourced organizations. This investment at the community level transforms capacity and allows service providers to improve their programs, evaluate their success, and replicate proven models in nearby communities. By pooling their collective resources toward a larger goal, Humanity United, Legatum Foundation, and the Walk Free Foundation are investing in the possibility of generating new resources and bringing projects to scale on a level that would exceed the capacity of any one of the donors.
  • Create scalable solutions: Beginning in northern India, the Freedom Fund has since expanded its hotspot programs to southern India, southeastern Nepal, central Nepal, Thailand, and Ethiopia. Additionally, it has also launched sector initiatives that convene actors and invest funding around slavery-specific issues, including legal tools, technology, supply chain transparency, treatment of mental trauma, and safer migration.64

Strength in Numbers: Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) Advocacy

As the new US congressional budget cycle approached, ATEST rallied its coalition members to develop an actionable advocacy plan. Thanks to their collective efforts, the FY15 Omnibus Appropriations Act adopted several of the key recommendations presented by ATEST: a 200 percent increase in funding for victim services and state and local anti-trafficking task forces through the US Department of Justice, a $2 million increase in funding to serve domestic trafficking victims through the US Department of Health and Human Services, and a 15 percent increase to the State Department’s Office to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons to boost its capacity to administer global anti-trafficking programs.

Source: ATEST Coalition,, accessed June 30, 2015.

Strengthening policy for preventing slavery and protecting victims


1804 marked history’s most successful slave revolt. The Haitian Revolution led that country to become the world’s first to outlaw slavery.65 Yet it persists there through the restavèk system, with children being the most vulnerable. In this system, Haitian children live with other families as domestic workers. Estimated to affect 250,000 Haitian children,66 the restavèk system prevents many children from receiving education and perpetuates a cycle of shame, neglect, and abuse affecting generations of Haitians.

In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 160,000 and displacing close to 1.5 million.67 The earthquake disrupted decades of humanitarian work, and the dramatic increase in poverty and vulnerability presented a huge complication to those working to end restavèk.

Although the estimated number of children in restavèk always varied, the earthquake served as a tipping point in motivating activists to develop an accurate measure of the number of children affected by the problem. It prompted 19 Haitian and international organizations to partner under UNICEF’s leadership to implement a nationwide study on child domestic servitude. The collaborative nature of the study increased awareness of this societal challenge, ultimately creating the groundswell of support needed to implement a new anti-trafficking law in Haiti in 2014.68

  • Align on common goals: Although each of the 19 contributing organizations tackles restavèk in a unique way, they united under the shared premise that investing in rigorous research could result in the substantive policy change needed to protect children in Haiti. “We had one thing to do; we were not doing 20 things at the same time,” described Smith Maximé of Free the Slaves. “There was a very clear objective, and we worked together to execute it.”69
  • Build mutual ownership: Serving as a convener, UNICEF gathered 19 leading Haitian and international organizations to commit needed funding as well as develop the technical approach for the study. Through the study’s collaborative structure, from developing the field questionnaires and sharing staff and financial resources to providing iterative feedback on draft reports, the involved organizations shared their respective expertise. With participants including the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor as a policy enforcer, the ILO and the International Organization for Migration as researchers and influencers, and local NGOs such as Fondayson Limyè Lavi as service providers, a diverse set of voices shaped the study, lending it rigor and credibility.
  • Create scalable solutions: By increasing awareness of the size and scope of restavèk in Haiti, the national study fostered a ripe environment for legislative change. Several of the report’s key contributors were also engaged in the multistakeholder “Table Sectorielle” that successfully advocated for a new anti-trafficking law in Haiti.70This new law further criminalizes the practice of restavèk by legally recognizing children’s inherent vulnerabilities and defining the forced labor or exploitation of a child under 18 as slavery. Despite this historic milestone, only time will tell of its impact and ability to inspire other countries such as India, Pakistan, and Indonesia—which account for the greatest number of child domestic servants—to adopt similar approaches to exposing the prevalence and management of slavery.


In 2014, a Guardian newspaper investigation revealed that Asian slave labor produced prawns for US and UK supermarkets, including Morrisons and Tesco.71 Consumers, civil society, and business rallied for a response to this humanitarian injustice. “Where do our products come from and how do we know what conditions they are produced in? At the core of the trust that customers have in us are two underlying concerns: a desire to know more about where the things they buy from us come from and an expectation of high standards that retailers and their suppliers should stick to,”72 says Giles Bolton of Tesco. Tesco and its customers are not alone in wanting to know more about their complex supply chain, which snakes around the world. Media attention and activism by concerned consumers led the UK parliament to adopt legislation that increased accountability for businesses and strengthened protection for victims.

The report set the stage for the legislation, and Unseen continued to work with the UK Home Office throughout the legislative process.
  • Align on common goals: To align around a common goal, the UK Home Office brought together policy makers, service providers (for example, Unseen), influencers (for example, the Ethical Trading Initiative), and business representatives (British Retail Consortium and Tesco), along with a host of other business and civil-society representatives. Collectively, they aligned around a need to make provisions for the protection of slavery victims and create supply chain legislation.
  • Build mutual ownership: Each representative offered an area of expertise. For Unseen, which serves as both a service provider and influencer, this included an in-depth 2011–13 policy review with the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) to identify how the United Kingdom was reacting to the issue of slavery within its borders. Through the expertise contributed by the staff of Unseen and CSJ, this report produced evidence-led policy recommendations and an implementation strategy so the United Kingdom could become the benchmark for anti-slavery practice in Europe and the world. The report set the stage for the legislation, and Unseen continued to work with the UK Home Office throughout the legislative process. Unseen’s director served as a member of the pre-legislative review panel, introduced survivors who had received services from Unseen and gave evidence to the bill’s review committee, and mobilized supporters, asking them to write to their parliamentary representatives to support the bill. In this case, the UK Home Office recognized that the policy needed input from an ally such as Unseen that understood the issue firsthand and advocated for systemic solutions such as creating new civil orders to establish an anti-slavery commissioner and draft legislation calling for supply chain transparency.
  • Create scalable solutions: The UK Modern Slavery Act, built on the foundation of the California Transparency in Supply Chains law and one of the first of its kind in Europe, significantly enhances support and protection for victims, gives law enforcement additional tools to target today’s slaveholders, threatens perpetrators with severe penalties, and requires companies to report on what action they are taking to ensure their end-to-end supply chains and businesses are slavery-free. As the legislation shifts from policy formulation to implementation, countries around the world have an opportunity to learn from the experiences in California and the United Kingdom as pioneers in this space.

Part IV: Moving forward: A call to action

The freedom ecosystem allies are beginning to mobilize through coordinated efforts around increasing quantifiable data, generating and effectively using resources, and promoting survivor-informed, victim-centered policy. However, the question remains: How should allies continue to build on this momentum?

Insights from stakeholders across the anti-slavery space, as well as secondary research analysis, point to three essential next steps for the freedom ecosystem as a whole:

  1. Overcome the evidence gap by creating a professional association for shared learning.
  2. Mobilize resources through strategic alliances for comprehensive services.
  3. Improve policy by uniting behind a shared agenda.


In order to continue addressing the prevailing data, resource, and policy challenges, allies from across sectors and functional types should collectively work to align around these next steps; by doing so, they will energize the freedom ecosystem. For specific actions per ally functional type, refer to Appendix A: Data, funding, and strategic policy positioning playbook.

Walking the walk: Monitoring TO Evaluation of Trafficking in Persons Community of Practice (METiP CoP)

As discussions on data challenges repeatedly surfaced, Free the Slaves invited a small group of organizations to participate in a conversation on monitoring and evaluation. These initial consultations evolved into the METiP CoP. Today, this community unites representatives of 25 organizations on a bimonthly basis to share methods and findings on how to best track progress from the field.

Overcome the evidence gap by creating a professional association for collective learning

The freedom ecosystem has a “need to match passion with intellectual rigor,” according to Claude d’Estrée, executive director of the Human Trafficking Center at the University of Denver.73 Notwithstanding allies’ undeniable passion, it’s hard to align around initiatives without hard data to analyze and benchmark. This information dearth “makes it very difficult to determine if slavery in a specific location is growing, diminishing, or remaining unchanged—and if the interventions being implemented to strengthen communities against vulnerability are proving effective in ending slavery.”74 David Schilling senior program director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, similarly states that the freedom ecosystem “has the vision but needs to figure out ways to structure itself . . . to amplify the work of others and identify the obstacles to getting this work done.”75

For this reason, allies should convene a professional association focused on accumulating and disseminating evidence and experience from the field. Fighting slavery will require ongoing, systematic, evidence-based efforts by professionals whose skills exceed those of the criminals they seek to defeat. Honing allies’ skills will increase the strength of the freedom ecosystem and improve its capacity to serve victims and at-risk communities. As seen with the International AIDS Society, the world’s leading independent association of HIV professionals responsible for convening the International AIDS conference and connecting multidisciplinary HIV/AIDS responders,76 a professional association can provide the foundation to educate the next generation of anti-slavery allies.

To start, there is a need to synthesize and disseminate important lessons from the ongoing fight to end modern slavery—both lessons on what is effective and what practices have failed. While the evidence gap persists, allies have started contributing to a growing body of literature and significant practical experience. Conveners, influencers, and researchers such as academic institutions can unite those with field expertise—policy makers and enforcers, researchers, service providers, and labor organizers—and amplify their efforts for wider consumption.

Model of professional associations at work: International AIDS Society (IAS)

As with the struggle to end slavery, the fight against HIV/AIDS has required a diverse group of actors to work collectively to tackle a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Through IAS, global HIV professionals are able to share best practices that enhance their efforts.

  • Services: Organizes annual conferences, advocates for increased investment in HIV/AIDS, disseminates research, fosters collaboration, and protects vulnerable populations

  • Member commitment: IAS members contribute an annual fee to participate in available programming and services

Source: IAS,, accessed September 28, 2015.

In addition to better managing existing knowledge, this professional association would facilitate the pooling of resources to initiate critical research on prevalence and dynamics in slavery hotspots while providing a platform to evaluate ongoing interventions. Pooling funders’ resources would support research, allowing allies to create a baseline, measure results, and ultimately identify a set of evidence-based practices. Using this quantitative research—as well as their qualitative expertise in preventing slavery, protecting victims, and supporting survivors—members of this professional association can help to develop standards and norms for this field, thus elevating the effectiveness of anti-slavery allies across the freedom ecosystem. By bringing together diverse allies, this association could serve as an “official” convener of the freedom ecosystem, facilitating critical discussions and sharing of lessons learned.

Mobilize resources through strategic alliances for comprehensive services

Again, the freedom ecosystem is significantly underfunded. This lack of resources compromises allies’ ability to address the complex needs of at-risk communities. One service provider can hardly provide this multitude of needs, spanning community mobilization, public education, police protection, legal advocacy, health care, economic development, shelter, and more. However, organizations that often work in parallel rarely coordinate their efforts, allowing gaps in services to persist and foregoing opportunities for efficiency.

Slavery is a crime and is universally illegal; so governments should strive to enforce its reduction. However, policy makers and enforcers cannot solve the problem alone—they require the expertise and urgency that cross-sector allies bring to the freedom ecosystem.

Anti-slavery allies should be open to new opportunities for creative programming that can provide better services at lower cost; service providers can and should explore strategic alliances aimed at optimizing delivery. These can include protocols between policy enforcers and service providers to ensure appropriate referrals of clients, planned delivery of complementary services incentivized by funder provisions, or joint ventures and mergers between complementary organizations. In the United States, the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking77 mandates the delivery of holistic services to survivors. This framework merits appropriate adaptation to local contexts and should be extended to address prevention and prosecution.

Strategic alliances between diverse allies can result in new ways of thinking about old problems, possibly leading to the development of innovative, new approaches. One example of a strong strategic alliance is the Chab Dai Coalition, which is composed of more than 50 Cambodian organizations that share the goal of ending trafficking and sexual abuse.78 Together, these organizations have more than 1,600 staffers and serve more than 10,000 beneficiaries a year.79 The Chab Dai Coalition serves to elevate its members’ individual and collective functioning. The coalition’s key elements include the Cambodia Learning Community, which provides training, sharing of lessons learned, and a print and electronic library available to the members; Charter-Doorsteps, focusing on organizational development; the Freedom Registry, which allows members to record essential information about each organization; the Jeut Nung Dai Project, training social workers to meet survivors’ needs; the Case Support Project, which mobilizes services when victims are identified; and the Butterfly Longitudinal Research Project, a 10-year research project launched in 2010 aimed at improving understanding of the reintegration of trafficked men and women.

Strategic alliances require champions. Anti-slavery leaders should actively support efforts to achieve greater impact and efficiency through collaboration, while funders and policy makers can provide positive incentives that encourage collective action for comprehensive service delivery.

Improve policy by uniting behind a shared agenda

Slavery is a crime and is universally illegal; so governments should strive to enforce its reduction. However, policy makers and enforcers cannot solve the problem alone—they require the expertise and urgency that cross-sector allies bring to the freedom ecosystem to catalyze necessary change. Actors in several other fields—including domestic violence, maternal and child health, and family planning—have demonstrated how cross-sector collective action can transform policies and better serve affected communities.

Slavery should be no different, particularly given that the fight for freedom transcends conservative and liberal ideological divisions. As the cause generates sympathetic support from a wide array of constituencies, the potential exists for conveners and influencers to shape a powerful, broad-based coalition advocating for policy change. While varying contexts and political systems add complications and obstacles, allies from across the freedom ecosystem—including businesses, labor organizers, researchers, and concerned consumers—should unite when possible around a common platform in order to make the eradication of slavery a priority for politicians and policy makers.

Cross-sector actors should engage in necessary debate to agree on high-priority policy goals. That said, it is critical that allies be willing to overcome definitional and ideological fissures. Allies should work to build a critical mass of support around actionable objectives—specifically, the need for increased funding for new programs and existing initiatives, rather than focusing on building unanimous consensus around theory. An anti-slavery professional association can serve as the forum for this effort, and examples of actor-specific advocacy efforts abound, from the ATEST Coalition for service providers80 to the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking for businesses.81 However, the increased diversity of participation from across the freedom ecosystem would strengthen advocacy efforts and improve outcomes. As Dan Viederman of Verité, an NGO focused on supply chain transparency, states, “As we look forward, we recognize there have been some huge wins in the past few years: the Executive Order in 2012 and the implementation structure around which now there is a massive compliance. On the other hand, we run the risk of confusing compliance with achievement. We have to be careful not to embrace a legislative planning approach instead of one that raises the bar and other ways for companies to measure their impact. Leaders in business as well as civil society need to be able to articulate the difference.”82

“We have to be careful not to embrace a legislative planning approach for the sake of it. We instead need legislation that raises the bar and creates ways for companies to measure their impact. Leaders in business as well as civil society need to be able to articulate the difference.” Dan Viederman, CEO, Verité

By engaging in constructive, actionable dialogue, the freedom ecosystem can align on a policy agenda and collectively advocate for local, sub-national, national, and international policy change, including increased public resources and survivor-centric policies.

Toward 2030

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?

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.

Appendix A: Data, funding, and strategic policy positioning playbook


Appendix B: US government ecosystem

These graphics show Deloitte’s commitment to convening stakeholders and looking at traditional problems differently comes from a belief that US government’s anti-trafficking initiatives according to open-source data. Categorized by the 4 Ps —prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships—the graphics show what types of initiatives agencies are focused on, highlighting opportunities for agencies to partner.



Appendix C: Freedom ecosystem interviewees

We want to thank the individuals whose interviews informed our research. These individuals include:


Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Social Impact practice helps clients in the public, private, and social sectors develop and scale solutions to address societal challenges. We focus on strengthening linkages between sectors, quantifying and communicating impact, and mobilizing the fast-evolving ecosystem of players. Our areas of focus include economic development, inclusive growth, and job creation; education; emerging market entry strategy; food security and agriculture; global health; philanthropy and social investing; social entrepreneurship and scaling; sustainable supply chain; and water, energy, and environment. Read more about our Social Impact practice on

Read more about Deloitte's anti-human trafficking efforts.