Here Are Some of the Funders Working to End Modern Slavery Around the Globe

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When people hear the word “slavery” in the U.S., what most often comes to mind is the chattel slavery in which Africans and Black Americans were treated as property and forced to work for white Americans. While that form of slavery was officially abolished in the U.S. in 1865, other forms of slavery are still common around the world to this day. According to the International Labour Organization, in 2021, 49.6 million people were living under modern slavery, up by 10 million compared to 2016 estimates. Of these, 27.6 million were in forced labor and 22 million in forced marriage.  

The International Labour Organization defines modern slavery as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily." This includes things like debt bondage, forced marriage, forced labor — whether in the private sector or imposed by the state — and human trafficking.

Modern slavery cuts across a number of intersecting issues, including labor, gender and migrant rights. For example, women and girls make up about 70% of all people in modern slavery — and 99% of those involved in commercial sexual exploitation. Women and girls also make up 59% of people in forced labor. 

This is a particularly tough problem for philanthropy to tackle, not just because of the many issue areas it involves, but also because, as with drug trafficking, terrorism, state violence and similar problems, it is traditionally governments and law enforcement agencies that have been charged with taking it on directly. Private funders, meanwhile, may feel they have fewer obvious paths in.

Nevertheless, there is a rising tide of philanthropic support for groups taking on modern slavery, and that’s encouraging to see. After all, reducing human suffering is a big part of what philanthropy is all about, and it’s hard to think of a bigger and scarier example of widespread human suffering than 50-million-plus enslaved people.

Examples of nonprofits tackling modern slavery and human trafficking include the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, Hope for Justice, Polaris Project, International Justice Mission, A21 Campaign and After Exploitation, among many others. Many organizations working in this space receive support from governments, philanthropy or both. To that end, here are some funders who are supporting antislavery work around the globe. 

Humanity United 

Founded and funded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar, Humanity United has been one of the biggest players working in this space, awarding between $17 million and $18 million a year. Its funding focuses on two areas: (1) supporting organizations working on peace-building and ending forced labor and human trafficking, and (2) a public engagement portfolio that supports investigative journalism, policy change and strategic communications.

Through its forced labor and human trafficking portfolio, Humanity United seeks to address the power imbalances that lead to the exploitation of workers. These include the relationships between workers and employers, and the relationships between host and sending countries and migrant workers. 

Some of Humanity United's partners include Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy (FORGE), Migrant Workers Rights Network, Partners for Dignity and Rights and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha.

Earlier this year, the Omidyar Group, an umbrella for numerous entities backed by the Omidyars, cryptically signaled that it may reconsider or dial back elements of its funding and other activities. It’s unclear at this point what this may mean — if anything — for Humanity United, which is part of the Omidyar Group.

Minderoo Foundation and Walk Free 

Founded by Andrew and Nicola Forrest, the Western Australia-based Minderoo Foundation primarily funds organizations in Australia, though it does support international work as well, including efforts to end modern slavery. As part of this work, Minderoo founded Walk Free, an international human rights group dedicated to ending all forms of modern slavery. Walk Free combines research and direct engagement with governments, businesses and religious leaders. Its work includes holding governments and international bodies accountable by tracking their progress, attempting to remove slavery from global supply chains, and tackling the social norms and behaviors that drive modern slavery.

Walk Free also publishes the Global Slavery Index, which provides national estimates of slavery’s prevalence in 160 counties. Its current estimate for the United States, 3.3 out of 1,000 people, is considered relatively “low” (though still disturbing). Figures for some other countries, like Saudi Arabia, Russia and Türkiye, are substantially higher.

Walk Free also works to empower and center survivors and places a focus on how modern slavery disproportionately impacts women and girls. It has collaborated with Survivor Alliance to expand its Lived Experience Expert Groups to conduct advocacy. Other projects include Global Freedom Network — a faith-based organization that works to “drive impact through empathy” — along with the Freedom Fund, detailed below. Recently, Walk Free pledged $13 million over five years to the Freedom Fund. 

Freedom Fund

Founded by Humanity United, the Minderoo Foundation, the Legatum Foundation and the Stardust Fund, the Freedom Fund offers direct support to frontline organizations working to end modern slavery, including support for movement-building and funding to address the systems that allow — and even encourage — slavery to exist. The fund also seeks to strengthen antislavery infrastructure globally and to raise capital by bringing new funding and investors into antislavery work. 

The Freedom Fund has also created related funds like the Survivor Leadership Fund and Freedom Rising. The Survivor Leadership Fund is a new fund that provides unrestricted grants to survivor-led organizations. Grants will be up to $20,000. Its current round of grants will focus on organizations located in Nepal. Meanwhile, Freedom Rising builds on the Freedom Fund's work by enabling the fund to scale its impact by supporting individuals that have been traditionally excluded from leadership positions. Freedom Rising's goal is to build a powerful antislavery movement led by women and survivors. According to its latest impact report, the Freedom Fund has, to date, invested a total of $78 million. It states that 12,000 community-level freedom groups have received support and that over 1.5 million lives have been impacted by its work. 

Stardust Fund

The Stardust Fund is focused on removing barriers and building collective power for women and girls. Stardust provides funding to support movements, bridge gaps and strengthen ecosystems in this space. Among its areas of focus, which include things like ending gender-based violence and improving equity in the workplace, is addressing the vulnerabilities that lead to human trafficking. It works primarily through the Freedom Fund.

Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation's International Grantmaking Program funds organizations that support children with disabilities, children who have been trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked, refugee and displaced children, and sustainable economic communities. As part of its antitrafficking work, the foundation targets prevention and public education awareness; rescue, safety and care; education and rehabilitation; inclusion and long-term care solutions; and community-based initiatives to end child marriage. Some of its antitrafficking grantees include the Global Fund for Children, Freedom Fund, Blue Dragon Children's Foundation and Together Women Rise, among others.

Laudes Foundation

Launched by the Brenninkmeijer family in 2020, the Laudes Foundation — previously the C&A Foundation — supports women and girls, human rights, global development and work around economic opportunity and conservation. The Brenninkmeijer family owns the Dutch clothing retailer C&A, and as such, Laudes’ grantmaking is especially concerned with the global fashion industry, workers' rights and promoting sustainable industry. Among its grantmaking in these areas, Laudes has supported a number of organizations working to end modern slavery. This includes the Freedom Fund, the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, Anti-Slavery International and InPACTO (National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labour Institute).

In addition to these, some other funders taking on modern slavery and human trafficking include the Millby Foundation, the Moondance Foundation, UBS Optimus Foundation, the Carlson Family Foundation, the Greenbaum Foundation and Hilton Global Foundation.

Although it’s good to see an increasing number of funders taking on modern slavery, many survivors have also pointed out that philanthropy and the nonprofit sector still have a long path to travel as they develop their work on the issue. Among their concerns: that both funders and service organizations often don't take into consideration those with lived experience of slavery. While funders on this list have made efforts to uplift survivor voices and survivor leadership, some leaders with lived experience of slavery say those efforts are still too few and far between.

Sophie Otiende, CEO of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, recently spoke about the issue with Inside Philanthropy. "If you look at the history of the sector in general, most of the time, it's really around people coming in and saving survivors," Otiende said. 

She added that as a survivor-leader, it's difficult for her and other survivors to sit in rooms and listen to people speak about how they are doing things for other people, rather than being part of the group and working together on an issue that impacts everyone. According to Otiende, classism and colonialism are some of the biggest reasons why those from impacted communities are not seen as experts. But by not only including those with lived experience but having them lead the work, Otiende and other leaders argue that the quality of the solutions will increase because those people have a better understanding of the problems and the solutions they require. 

"This has been proven over and over again," Otiende said. "That impacted communities… some have been living with this thing for a while and therefore know how to navigate it in ways that someone who's not impacted will never be able to understand."