Ending Modern-Day Slavery

Photography by Daniel Smyth

Slavery did not end 150 years ago after the Civil War as many people believe. The International Labor Organization reports that 20.9 million people are currently enslaved around the world, more than at any other time in human history. 

Although slavery is outlawed in every country, it persists in many forms including domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labor (working under the threat of violence for no pay), bonded labor (unable to leave until a debt is repaid), child labor and forced marriage. 

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is working to shed light on the contemporary slavery crisis in many ways, one being the End Slavery Now initiative at www.EndSlaveryNow.org. 

“Our heritage at the Freedom Center is with the Underground Railroad and the heroes who helped those escapees, but when we saw this vacancy in the awareness of modern-day slavery we knew we needed to cultivate public interest,” says Brooke Hathaway, director of strategic initiatives at the Freedom Center. It deals with historical and contemporary moral injustices through the museum and through End Slavery Now. 

End Slavery Now partners with antislavery organizations in the U.S. and around the globe to illustrate the many different ways normal, everyday individuals can get involved in the fight to end slavery. 

The website is a one-stop shop for any person who wants to help. A directory of more than 1,600 organizations allows visitors to filter search results according to location or organization name. 

“In January we launched our action library, where we collect all the data from our partner organizations and deposit them into this library,” says Hathaway. “We had 55 days where we studied how many people completed an action and it was powerful to realize in 55 days about 250 actions had been completed. Imagine if we scale that.” 

Product certification is a large part of fighting slavery, but the litany of certifications can be overwhelming to the average consumer. End Slavery Now presents this information in a simplified way through their Slave-Free Buying Guide, an e-book available for download free-of-charge at www.endslaverynow.org/slave-free. 

The Slave-Free Buying Guide introduces consumers to companies, brands and social enterprises that address slavery, forced labor and human trafficking in their supply chains. The educational guide is a tool for individuals who want to choose better products, with sections based on product type, including chocolate, home goods, travel and more. 

Most sections include a brief explanation of slavery in that particular industry or product chain, individual product recommendations, company rankings in Good, Better and Best categories based on their anti-slavery policies, supply chain transparency, third-party certifications and engagement. 

It’s an ongoing project with constant updates including more information. The Slave-Free Buying Guide is an impactful way to create demand for goods produced with audited, slavery-free labor; simultaneously, this shift also shrinks the market for goods produced with forced or slave labor and/or by trafficked humans. 

In 2010, the Freedom Center opened their Invisible: Slavery Today exhibit, connecting the past to the present. 

“Part of our mission is informing and educating our visitors that slavery did not end in 1865,” says Hathaway. “Making that connection and learning how to combat this current travesty by preventing vulnerable populations from becoming caught up in trafficking is an important part of Invisible: Slavery Today.” 

Each year, the State Department honors outstanding individuals around the world who are fighting to end human trafficking. Its Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Heroes), are shared by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at www.tipheroes.org. To date, more than 110 individuals have received the TIP Report Heroes award, recognizing their tireless efforts to protect victims, punish offenders and raise awareness of ongoing criminal practices in their countries and abroad.

“We need similar opposition to slavery today as we did in the 19th century. It’s critical to assist slaves and coordinate frontline efforts, but we also need public opinion to shift. Educating the public and harnessing public outrage can’t be a byproduct – it has to be someone’s primary purpose. That’s what we do at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center,” says Hathaway. 

Businesses play an enormous role in fighting modern-day slavery and human trafficking, from supply chain, travel and HR policies, recruiting requirements – businesses have several avenues to make a difference. 

“Employees are dying to get engaged, and imagine the results if business leaders partner with End Slavery Now, encouraging their employees to support an anti-slavery charity or by taking action in some area,” says Hathaway. “There is so much opportunity to build interest and passion in an employee base due to the employer being willing to do something.” 

The Freedom Center offers training that can be customized according to the business type, the number of employees, etc. Simple things like purchasing power – what kind of pencils or coffee a company purchases are incredibly important.  

Businesses interested in receiving information sessions or training about human trafficking and modern day slavery from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center can email info@endslaverynow.org. 


The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located at 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati OH 45202. For more information, call 513.333.7739 or visit their website at www.freedomcenter.org.