December 2 is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Modern-day slavery is appallingly widespread. According to the UN more than 40 million people are in forced labor, including 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors. (Featured photo: ILO / Marcel Crozet).

What can be done? In November 2016, a new legally binding Protocol by the International Labor Organization (ILO) was introduce to strengthen global efforts to eliminate forced labor. A global campaign is underway – The 50 for Freedom campaign – which aims to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labor Protocol. To date, 47 have done so – and their website invites you to help petition the leaders of the world.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report by the US State Department highlights examples of community action to halt trafficking.  The TIP report notes success stories in Guinea Bissau, the Republic of the Congo and Chad where local communities were key in intervening to halt trafficking.

Anti-Slavery International reports five impacts of COVID-19 on enslaved people: increasing abuse, increasing vulnerability, worsening discrimination, increasing risks for migrant workers and disrupting antislavery efforts.

Namati is an organization that trains “grassroots legal advocates” – sometimes called “barefoot lawyers” or “community paralegals.” It supports a network of organizations like International Justice Mission (IJM) that share this approach.

Child sex slavery is perhaps the most horrific aspect of modern slavery, and illustrates how international interventions like the TIP report and local community advocacy can work together to make a difference. In the book Half the Sky, the authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tell the story of “Svay Pak, a Cambodian village that used to be one of the notorious places in the world for sex slavery. On Nick’s first visit, brothels there had seven- and eight-year-old girls for sale.” After the US State Department strongly criticized Cambodia in its TIP report – and IJM opened an office there, he reported seeing only 10% as many. “This is a sign,” they write, “that progress is possible.”