Organization Profile: Free the Slaves

“I think that there’s a misperception sometimes that all you need is Liam Neeson and his special set of skills to end slavery, and while yes, rescues happen and are important, and are part of the playbook, they’re only one part of this continuum of activity that happens leading up to the moment of liberation…”

free-slaves-logoAfter my post on the basics of modern slavery, I thought it would be helpful to post about one of my favorite organizations doing something about it. I listed several on that post, and I wanted to dedicate a post to one in particular in hopes that folks will find a way to get involved in the anti-slavery movement. I hope to highlight other organizations later, but this week, we’re starting with Free the Slaves. (And I even got to interview Terry FitzPatrick, Director of Communications and Advocacy, for this post!! Huge thanks to him.)

The basics:  Free the Slaves (FTS) is a non-profit, based in Washington, D.C., founded in 2000, with this mission:  “Liberating slaves and changing the conditions that allow slavery to persist.” (Check out their Fighting for Freedom Timeline for the highlights.)

Three Reasons I Love Free the Slaves:desktop3-001

First, they were one of the first organizations I heard about in 2007, when my eyes were first opened to the realities of modern slavery. In those early days, I read books by Kevin Bales, one of the founders of the organization. I don’t know if I found his books through the FTS website or FTS through his books, but my sentimental attachment to both is intertwined.

Second is my personal attachment. I was privileged to have Kevin as one of my professors at WISE and as my boss while I worked for Walk Free. (He’s super great. Here’s my fangirl blog post from when I first met him.) Not only that, but when I came back to the States, I worked with their programs director on two separate volunteer research projects. I’m always grateful to have the opportunity to do something I love and be entrusted with such important work.

But thirdly, and most importantly, I love how they approach anti-slavery. They don’t take a cookie-cutter approach and try to make it work everywhere. They research the hows and the whys and work with local people with local knowledge to create sustainable solutions. Then, they give away what they learn so that the entire movement can continue to learn and develop the best practices for ending slavery. (See HERE.)

How Free the Slaves Works: 

I’m basically turning this section over to Terry! He explained what FTS does (and the hows and the whys) succinctly and coherently, and I’m not convinced I could do any better. I have done some editing for length.

MP: What’s the biggest misconception about what you do as an anti-slavery organization?

TF: “We don’t rescue anyone, really. People rescue themselves in reality. […] You can squeeze labor from three different directions, and you have to squeeze it from all three directions to actually push it out of existence. One is prosecution and police enforcement. Right now, slavery is a low-risk, high-profit enterprise. […] That has to change. […]

“Two, we need to reduce the demand, the consumer demand, for products that are made by slaves or with slavery tainted raw materials. We do that through corporate awareness and through regulations that require transparency and disclosure on the part of corporations. That will create market signals and consumer empowerment to steer clear of products that are tainted by slavery and to go towards fair trade products.

“The third direction is the area where Free the Slaves has been specializing in recent years. […] The consumers [create] the demand, but it’s the supply of vulnerable people who, either through debt or through unsafe migration, end up trapped in slavery. [..] And we try to figure out, ‘Why are people falling into debt in this community? Is it medical emergencies or access to loans for small business, or access to banking services, or lack of education for kids for school, lack of healthcare, and having to pay for expensive private doctors?’ So, there’s a certain combination. It’s different in many different places as to why people fall into slavery, and our major focus is to figure out what those conditions are and fix those root causes.

“And then for people who are already in slavery, [the goal] is to help them realize their rights and to help them mobilize to break free. Either walk off the job, put down tools and walk off, or to organize police rescues, and to then come back home and learn new skills, for children resume their education, and work with their neighbors to make sure they don’t take their place in slavery, kind of a community focus.

“I think that there’s a misperception sometimes that all you need is Liam Neeson and his special set of skills to end slavery, and while yes, rescues happen and are important, and are part of the playbook, they’re only one part of this continuum of activity that happens leading up to the moment of liberation, and then what happens after liberation to make sure that someone who is rescued from slavery, or escapes it, does not fall back into slavery, or their neighbor isn’t enslaved in their place.”

MP: How can we help? How can I help Free the Slaves do this incredibly important work from my desk in central Louisiana? 

TF: “Contribute funds. It’s unrealistic to think that we can mobilize everyone in the world to become an abolitionist or a front-line field worker. And it’s dangerous to do if you don’t know what you’re doing. Both to yourself and to people in slavery. […] The most important thing is to contribute to the organizations that are working on the front lines every day [so] we can do our jobs more effectively and in bigger numbers. The number one thing that that movement is starved for right now is resources.

“15 years ago, awareness was the big problem. People didn’t accept that slavery still exists. And it’s different now to eradicate it than it was to outlaw it. […] And so this work is complicated and technical. It takes a lot of time, it takes working with people on the ground who are in very vulnerable situations, and the best thing people can do is help to support that work financially. Build a bridge between the people who need help and those of us who have resources.”

MP: What’s the most moving story you have from your time with Free the Slaves? 

TF: “It’s someone named Sina Vann. Her story is actually on the Freedom Awards section of the Free the Slaves website. […] Two things touched me about her story; one is that she is so tough as nails, that she goes back into brothels in Cambodia, to help try to rescue others who are in the same predicament that she was. Now that takes some real guts and that kind of leadership of seeing someone who had been traumatized for years and had been rescued and is now a leader of the movement, and not just a public speaker, but actually on the front lines. That was really quite something to see and touched me quite deeply.

sina-vann640a“And when she came to Los Angeles where we all met her, […] she stood up on the stage with 1000 people in front of her, where her story was told in very graphic detail, and Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher were right next to her presenting her with an award, and she told us afterwards that when she saw all those people in Hollywood standing and applauding her on a televised program, and movie stars embracing her and giving her an award for the courageous work she’s done. She said for the first time in her life she felt truly free.

“That kind of moment is quite rewarding because I’m in the communication side of anti-slavery movement. And I think it’s important for us to tell these stories because it not only provides visibility for the problem, but it helps show that there are heroes, like Sina, who are solving this problem. And that it is gutsy courageous work that’s necessary to get this done, but it is being done. If people help support that work, we’ll just amplify those courageous acts of freedom all around the world.

Emphasis added, because WOW…that needs to be emphasized.

If people help support that work, we’ll just amplify those courageous acts of freedom all around the world.

Now, that’s something I can really get behind.

. . . Giving . . . 

If you’ve made it this far, PLEASE DON’T STOP READING! 

Why I Free Slaves – This is the latest giving campaign from FTS. The first video is up, profiling some of Free the Slaves’ real-life donors. Super inspiring to hear their stories!

Donate! This is the link to become a donor yourself. There are options for one-time and monthly gifts. I know this is cliche, but seriously, I drop $5 on a Starbucks at least once a month. How much more satisfying would it be to know I’m helping to free slaves? 

Passive Giving: There are also ways that you can support Free the Slaves without even thinking about it!
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  • I use Amazon Smile, and a portion of the purchase price on qualifying items automatically goes to Free the Slaves, at zero cost to me! 
  • Workplace giving is another great way to give. Often, companies with workplace giving programs will match how much you give, so it’s like you’re giving double!
    • If you’re a federal employee, you can find out more here through the CFC. 
    • Other corporations use Global Impact, which you can check out here
    • And if none of those apply to you, ask your manager or boss or whoever about getting a program started!

Be a slave-free consumer! Learn more on the Free the Slaves website about Slavery-Free Commerce and how you can help.

Last but certainly not least, get creative! There are lots of ways to raise and give money. Social enterprise is all the rage these days. (Ever heard of TOMS?) Even NOLA’s very own District Donuts is using its social power to give back. If you’re a business owner, find ways to incorporate non-profit giving into your business plan. Trust me, customers LOVE knowing they’re supporting a cause! If you’re not a business owner, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to use your skills to generate funds and help free slaves.



Here at Tuesday Justice, we would love to hear about how you’re getting involved in ENDING SLAVERY. Let us know here or on the Facebook page!

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