Forced labour

Forced labour is an age-old problem. We need new solutions. If we tackle the entrenched cultural norms and business practices that perpetuate exploitation, we can change the story for the people who are most at risk. We can help those trapped in forced labour to leave and thrive. And we can empower those who are most vulnerable and prevent them from ever going into forced labour.

Here, three changemakers discuss the solutions that represent the best opportunities to eradicating forced labour.

Nina Smith from GoodWeave shares her insight into successfully reducing child labour in the carpet industry and how a new partnership with C&A and C&A Foundation will apply GoodWeave's model to the apparel industry. Ginny Baumann explains why Freedom Fund's holistic approach to reducing modern slavery is all about empowering the most vulnerable. Monique Villa from the Thomson Reuters Foundation talks about the power of journalism in shining a light on forced labour. And we hear Parameshwari's story of life after Sumangali.

Women at a meeting of the Tamilnadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU)

Women at a meeting of the Tamilnadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU)

Girls receiving life skills training to prevent them from entering forced labour schemes in Tamil Nadu, India

Young woman learing a new skill at the newly inaugurated tailoring center in Tamil Nadu, India

A model for fighting child labour

Nina Smith

Founding Executive Director,

GoodWeave envisions a world where all children go to school, not to work. Where they hold pencils and not tools. To get there, we need to tackle the root causes in the marketplace and producer communities that now have 168 million children toiling in the global economy.

Since 1995, we've been working to tackle these root causes, particularly in the handmade carpet industry where child labour was once rampant. The GoodWeave certification label on the back of a rug is one way of assuring the end consumer that their purchase is child-labour-free.

We partner with brands and retailers selling carpets and encourage them to become licensees. These brands and retailers then ask their suppliers to comply with the GoodWeave standard. If they don't, suppliers are at risk of losing their business. This is how we change the game and create a market that says: “We won't tolerate child labour or forced labour.” Today there are 140 licensed brands and thousands of retailers worldwide, including Otto Group, Harrod's, Macy's and Target.

To ensure standards on the ground, GoodWeave have a rigorous monitoring system. We map a company's supply chain and then conduct unannounced supplier inspections. If there's evidence of child labour, our team of inspectors and social workers step in. We remove the child and provide immediate care and long-term education opportunities.

GoodWeave is different to traditional corporate compliance schemes. Our system reaches deep into supply chains – from factories in the city centre to a remote village loom shed. We use economic incentives to deter exploitation and dismantle social norms in communities. These things are at the root of the problem.

We've come a long way in realising our vision. Nearly 10% of all carpets produced worldwide now carry our label and the prevalence of child labour in South Asia's carpet capitals has declined by 80%. We've rescued over 3,600 “carpet kids” and supported education for more than 15,000 children. And much of this social change has been funded by the sales of certified rugs, which has generated $1.5 million to reinvest in weaving communities.

Now, we're working with C&A Foundation to bring this approach to the apparel sector.

We're launching a pilot with C&A Foundation and C&A focused on home workers in North India who provide the embroidery that you find on clothes. The vast majority of these workers are women and children, and they're at the mercy of a competitive business environment that relies on highly decentralised supply chains.

With the support of C&A Foundation, we're going to work with three C&A suppliers, map their supply chains and conduct rigorous inspections, ensure children in worker communities are attending school and that adult stitchers are offered decent working conditions. We'll also create a training programme to help women regain control of their business.

Ultimately, we hope this work will go further than C&A suppliers. We want to create something that other brands can get behind. The more market leverage we have, the bigger our impact, the more children who can pick up those pencils.

Putting an end to exploitation

Ginny Baumann

Senior Program Officer,
The Freedom Fund

There's a very simple idea driving our model for change: we need to help the people who are most at risk of entering modern slavery to overcome their vulnerability. And we need to give people who are in slavery the support they need to leave and thrive.

To do this, the Freedom Fund identifies ‘hotspots' with high incidence of forced labour or trafficking. We then work with experienced NGOs, progressive businesses and cooperative governments, encouraging them to share knowledge and work on solutions together. When it comes to ending forced labour, collaboration is essential.

In September 2015, we launched a hotspot in Tamil Nadu, South India. With limited access to education and little alternative employment, tens of thousands of adolescent girls from this region can find themselves trapped in a working life of poor pay and dangerous conditions, where abuse and harassment are rife.

With support from C&A Foundation, the Freedom Fund's first approach for creating change is prevention. Working with 12 local NGOs, we are helping community members tackle the underlying causes that push young people into bonded labour

and the hazardous conditions in some of the spinning mills. Our local partners highlight the importance of education and access to vocational training, including setting up outreach centres to keep girls in school longer. If girls can increase their knowledge and skill sets, there's a better chance they will get jobs with better conditions.

Last year, 55,069 people participated including mill workers, school children, parents, teachers and village leaders.

Secondly, we're addressing the huge gap in rights awareness among women and adolescent girls working in spinning mills. Many don't understand that forced overtime and abusive treatment are illegal. We're empowering young mill workers inside and outside the mills to voice their concerns effectively with managers. Our partners provide vital education on labour rights, like minimum wage, grievance procedures and dealing with sexual harassment.

Modern slavery touches all our lives. But this also means there's a huge opportunity for everyone to come together for change – not least the individuals and communities who are most affected.


community members received training to help protect young people and tackle the underlying causes that forced them into bonded labour

The power of journalism

Monique Villa

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Slavery is a silent and invisible crime. We often believe it is relegated to history books, however the reality is that there are more people enslaved today than at any given time in history. There are an estimated 36 million women, men and children held in modern-day slavery in 2015. It is a growing multi-dollar industry generating $150 billion a year.

Media reports on the use of slave labour in Thailand's fishing industry, as well as the plight of migrant workers in Qatar, have helped bring slavery and human trafficking to the forefront of public attention. However, these pressing issues continue to remain underreported in the mainstream media.

This is one of the main reasons why, earlier this year, we decided to partner with C&A Foundation to fight human trafficking and slavery through the power of journalism. This new powerful initiative aims to shed light on trafficking and forced labour across South Asia, home to half of the world's slaves. Through this three-year partnership, we created the very first editorial news desk entirely dedicated to the coverage of forced labour. This, combined with in-depth training courses for local journalists.

The idea behind this initiative is simple: we want to put slavery at the top of the political agenda and push key actors such as governments, policy-makers, retailers, private sector companies and others to take action to put the business of slavery and trafficking out of business.

Our team of journalists are based in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi and report on the latest stories related to supply chain exploitation, sex trafficking and bonded and forced labour. Our stories have a global reach and incredible impact. They're distributed globally by the Reuters News wire reaching an estimated 1 billion readers daily. All of our stories are also translated into Hindi and Tamil and are available free of charge to all media publications in India and around the world.

With this initiative, we highlight the critical role of the media in shedding light on these pressing issues. This is the one step forward in the fight against forced labour and one step closer to confining slavery to the history books.

Sumangali survivor who has received vocational training.
Note: for privacy reasons, this is not Parameshwari.

New hope, new opportunity

Parameshwari's story

Two years ago, my father passed away. I was 15 and studying ninth standard. My father was the the main breadwinner for my family so his death left us in a desperate financial situation. As the eldest, the burden fell on me to earn for the family.

After seeing my family's situation, an agent put me in a spinning mill. I had to drop out of school and ended up working night shifts for 130 Rupees per day. I had no welfare benefits and the unsafe conditions began to take a toll on my health. I developed respiratory issues that led to frequent wheezing and coughing. And I had stomach aches too. I had to leave home before dinner to get to the mill on time for my shifts.

One day, a Program Manager from SPEECH approached me during an event in our village. She told me about the aims of the SPEECH program and I opened up about the struggles at work. I told her that I wanted to leave my job to find something better.

Later, the people from SPEECH spoke to my mother. They told her about the problems in my spinning mill and also about the importance of my education. They also referred me for counselling and care at the health centre in the Virudhunagar District.

My mother decided to go for daily wage work and I decided to enrol in a vocational training course so that I could leave the job at the mill. I did a beautician course with SPEECH. I developed a new talent and one day, I hope to own my own beauty parlour.

The project supported Parameshwari to purchase cosmetics and beauty kits. She is now a beautician. SPEECH is one of the 13 grassroots organisations working to end forced labour in Tamil Nadu that is supported by a partnership between Freedom Fund and C&A Foundation.

Solutions we focused on to tackle forced labour

Supporting holistic programming to rehabilitate survivors and preserve their freedom

Improving supply chain transparency


Suppliers take advantage of weak systems and poor conditions

Brand compliance programmes are insufficient

FL working conditions persist in the global supply chain

Strengthening worker access to justice, rights and supporting government policy and enforcement

Supporting targeted convening, multi-stakeholder initiatives and research to build the field

Our results in 2015

Through our initiatives focusing on forced labour in Tamil Nadu, India we have mobilised: