Ending enslavement of girls in South India and Ethiopia

Freedom Fund

At a glance

40.3 million people are living in slavery today – 71 percent of them women and girls. Females comprise 99 percent of the victims of sexual exploitation, but they also make up 59 percent of forced labor in the private sector.1 Girls in Southern India and Ethiopia looking to contribute to their families and forge an independent future find themselves vulnerable to egregious labor exploitation and poorly prepared to protect themselves. The Freedom Fund works in 'hotspot' coalitions of grassroots non-profit organizations to tackle systemic issues driving slavery in specific communities. The combined action, accompanied by careful research on what works, aims to reduce the prevalence of slavery in those communities and industries.

The partners

The Freedom Fund is a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery. Freedom Fund identifies and invests in the most effective frontline efforts to eradicate slavery in the countries and sectors where it is most prevalent. Partnering with community-based organizations, visionary investors, governments, anti-slavery agencies and those at risk of exploitation, Freedom Fund tackles the systems that allow slavery to thrive. It works to protect vulnerable populations, to liberate and reintegrate those enslaved, and to prosecute those responsible.


The problem

Indian and Ethiopian adolescent girls hoping to find meaningful employment find themselves instead trapped in slave-like conditions, abused and exploited – without a dignified path back to their families.

Tamil Nadu is one of India’s richest states and the center of its textile industry, but with huge income inequalities. Relentless demand for textiles and insufficient transparency fuel a 24-hour production industry hungry for cheap labor with little government oversight. Workers’ basic rights are frequently disregarded while widespread poverty and lack of alternatives drive young workers to the looms and mills, often in remote locations. Gender and caste-based discrimination, illness-related debts, family difficulties, lack of education and high drop-out rates all exacerbate girls’ vulnerability.

Despite rapid economic growth, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Bouts of famine, floods, human rights abuses and armed conflicts have exacerbated the fast growing population’s vulnerability to trafficking, unsafe migration and slavery. The most vulnerable are women and girls from rural areas where poverty, disease, child marriage, domestic violence, and lack of education and employment options drive tens of thousands to journey to the Middle East as domestic servants. The majority migrate illegally with no protection against exploitation 'en route' or at destination. Those who return are often traumatized and ostracized. 

The solution

The Freedom Fund’s Southern India hotspot will build a systemic response to the exploitation of garment workers, allowing communities to identify and address abuse, and promote awareness of workers’ rights in the workplace. The hotspot engages with owners, managers and recruitment brokers to extend incentives for legal and decent work into higher tiers of the Tamil Nadu textile industry.

The hotspot’s reach will expand to include source districts in other states from where young workers migrate. And it will provide enhanced support for frontline facilitators who work with communities to strengthen resilience and raise awareness. Creating communities of practice among partners, establishing support groups and promoting workers’ rights in mills have all proven to be effective approaches that will be deepened. The program will also offer a range of specialist technical support to partners, with particular emphasis on boosting advocacy skills.

The Freedom Fund’s Ethiopia hotspot will work towards three key objectives:

  1. Making sure girls and young women better understand the risks of migration for domestic work and how to mitigate such risks.
  2. Improving their economic prospects so they can make voluntary and informed decisions about their future.
  3. Helping to create systems that promote safer migration and respond to migrant worker needs.

The program will work closely with returnees as agents of change, making effective use of community structures to educate entire communities and provide vocational and life skills training to boost resilience. The Freedom Fund will continue to support local partners to co-create policy and program solutions and to effectively communicate with decision-makers, fostering a network of safe migration advocates at the local and national levels. It will also advise and engage with officials and policy-makers to drive system change.

The evidence

Since their launch in 2015, both hotspots have made great strides, supporting and harnessing the experience of frontline organizations, and developing relationships with other stakeholders including community groups and government departments. Since 2015 the combined hotspots have:

  • Impacted 150,000 lives;
  • Helped create 2,000 microenterprises; and
  • Changed the Ethiopian government’s attitudes and position on the need for safe migration measures

The Impact

Over 36 months the hotspots will deliver:

  • 2,3000 slavery victims in Tamil Nadu liberated with support for recovery
  • 49,000 Ethiopian women/girls accessing social service
  • 1,775 Ethiopian women/girls graduating from vocational training courses
  • Outcomes assessed by external evaluator

Freedom Fund works towards SDGs: