Big Story 10

'Game-changing' anti-slavery fund aims to save millions of lives

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A global fund aiming to raise $1.5 billion to halve the number of modern slaves in the world’s hardest-hit countries could be a “game-changer”, leaders said at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, a U.S-based partnership that unites governments, businesses and charities, hopes to replicate the success of a similar initiative that boosted financing to tackle AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

“We need a global fund to deal with this ... much like the international community did with HIV/AIDS,” U.S. Republican Senator Bob Corker said on a panel of activists, lawmakers and investors at the political and business summit in Davos.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the world’s largest project aimed at tackling the three diseases, says it has saved at least 22 million lives since it was set up in 2002 - having disbursed at least $36 billion in that time.

About 40 million people were living as modern slaves last year - either trapped in forced labor or forced marriages - according to the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) and human rights group Walk Free Foundation.

The fund to end slavery is seeking $250 million from the United States, $500 million from other nations and $750 million in private funding to coordinate global anti-slavery efforts and finance projects that prosecute criminals and protect survivors.

It has raised about $75 million - mainly from the United States and Britain - since it was set up in 2015.

“This (slavery) fund ought to focus our global efforts ... so far they have been completely uncoordinated,” said Gary Haugen, head of the International Justice Mission (IJM).

“This is a game-changing effort.”

Businesses have a big role to play, not just by pledging cash, but also in ensuring workers making their products across their supply chains are not exploited, said John Studzinski, vice-chairman of the private equity giant Blackstone Group.

With investors’ increasing focus on ethical business, companies should take action, Studzinski said.

“There is a need for corporations to bring the discussion into the boardroom and on to the front page of their annual reports,” he said, calling on companies to develop best practices for eradicating slavery in their supply chains.

More people are enslaved today than ever before in a trade estimated to generate $150 billion a year, according to Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel Peace laureate.

“Every number has a beating heart, a face, a name,” he said at the Swiss ski resort. “Slavery is an assault on humanity.”