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Dec 17, 2018

In Episode 2 of Series 4 of The Rights Track, Todd talks to Dan Vexler, Director of Programs at The Freedom Fund  and asks the question “How do you fight slavery on the ground?”

In an interview recorded on International Anti-Slavery Day We also hear from David Westlake and Steve Webster of The International Justice Missionabout their approach to the problem.

 0.00-6.20 mins 

  • David Westlake and Steve Webster talk about the partnerships they make to help them build and pursue a criminal case against the perpetrators of modern slavery an support the victims through the process and afterwards 
  • Todd’s asks Dan whether The Freedom Fund adopts the same approach
  • In response Dan agrees that modern slavery is a crime and should be prosecuted as such but argues for a broader approach. He sees law enforcement as part of a solution but argues that we need to ask why people become enslaved, and suggests that it is because they are viewed as second class citizens with fewer rights, and thus more vulnerable to the exercise of power over them
  • Todd picks up on this argument and in particular the idea that social norms within societies can lead to modern slavery being ‘acceptable’.
  • By way of example Dan talks about the exploitation of migrant labour in the Thailand sea food industryworking in appalling conditions. He argues that Thai’s view such exploitation as permissible because they see these migrants as second-class citizens; a view that is tacitly supported, for example, by the police


  • Todd points to the twin elements of deception and coercion which lead to migrants in Thailand becoming trapped on boats for months on end without pay and asks whether this fits the definition of modern slavery, which is confirmed by Dan 
  • Todd then goes on to ask what the Freedom Fund does to tackle the problem
  • Dan explains the Freedom fund are working in many places for example; Thailand, India, Nepal and Ethiopia, and so that it depends on what the issues are in each place
  • A key focus is prevention, via information to communities about the reality of the situations they may find themselves in, raising awareness of the deceptions practised by recruitment agencies, raising awareness of their human rights including the legality of their work situation, and organising them to watch out for traffickers
  • The other strand is prosecution and advocacy to power holders to protect citizen’s rights
  • Todd summarises the above and then moves on to ask about migrant workers in Qatar and the UAE and how they are coerced into a situation of modern slavery
  • Dan refers to the programme in Ethiopia which focuses on female domestic workers and argues that deception and coercion occur all the way through the process from the pressure she feels to travel to the Gulf to support her family, the misrepresentation of contracts made by local brokers, the long hours she is forced to work, the and the degrading way she is treated by the family she works for
  • He adds that The Freedom Fund is not against migration as such because of the economic benefits remittances However, he sees migration as ‘an entry point” which can lead individuals into modern slavery

 11.30- 13.30

  • Todd points to similar situations happening everywhere in the world including The USA and the UK
  • Dan agrees but would see this as being an exception given the strength of legal institutions in countries like the UK and draws a distinction between the UK and Bihar where large numbers of people are in debt bondage
  • Debt bondage is another form of modern slavery involving lower caste people working on the land to pay off debts either recently incurred or inherited. They often work unpaid or are charged exorbitantly high interest rates which they can never repay


  • Todd now moves on to ask about the concept of “Hot Spots”what they are and how they are chosen?
  • Dan explains that rather than spread their resources too thinly they concentrate on a limited number of slavery hotspots globally.
  • They are chosen based on a number of factors; prevalence, whether there are local NGO’s they can support, the government’s position and a guarantee of sustainable funding
  • The focus is on supporting front line local community based organisations which he feels have been neglected in funding the fight against modern slavery
  • The role of the fund is to integrate the work of different organisations to ensure they share common objectives and to build a coalition working for systemic change in terms of criminal justice, and awareness raising, and advocacy to business organisations
  • By way of example Dan refers to lobbying for more protection for migrant workers in the Thailand sea food industry, and pressing the Ethiopian government to develop policies to make economic migration safer rather than preventing migration


  • Todd’s final question is about how the Freedom Fund measures success
  • Success can be achieved by putting pressure on governments
  • Success can be evaluated by universities who analyse which interventions are working best
  • Dan points to the change in policy in Ethiopia from prevention of migration to developing policies for safe migration as an example of success

Todd summary:

  • Shift away from criminal justice focus
  • Increased attention to root causes of slavery including cultural norms
  • Intervention raise awareness
  • Some cautious optimism for achieving change over the long term