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FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University


Grantee: Harvard University FXB Center for Health and Human Rights

In April 2016 Harvard University’s FXB Centre released a study finding strong evidence that the work of one of the Freedom Fund’s northern India partners has had a profoundly positive impact on the rights and well-being of low-caste communities affected by bonded labour. It found that as whole communities eliminated bonded labour, they also demonstrated significant social and economic benefits.

The FXB Center’s research was a mixed methods study that involved collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, and the research was conducted in partnership with the Institute for Human Development based in Delhi.

The core of the research consisted of a survey of 535 households within 19 of the hamlets where the full intervention had taken place. The measures in the survey assessed the extent of eradication of bonded labour, and compared this with information from the baseline survey conducted in 2011, before the interventions designed to end slavery took place. The research also undertook a comparison with similar communities in which a more limited intervention took place.

The study examined the work of the Society for Human Development and Women’s Empowerment (known by its Hindi acronym, MSEMVS) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. MSEMVS has developed a community empowerment model that enables economically disenfranchised groups to identify their own priorities and collectively demand their rights. The research documents a significant decline over a four-year period in human trafficking and debt bondage in the area – almost complete elimination. It attributes remarkable improvements in the health, education and food security of affected communities to MSEMVS’ intervention.

The communities targeted by MSEMVS are home to some of the most vulnerable populations in India. Community members work in agriculture, brick, stone-breaking and carpet industries, often in conditions of debt bondage, typically receiving less than minimum wages, and unable to freely change their employer. Sometimes the children within the families are expected to work by the landowner or employer. Because these families are often unable to get help, they tend to fall deeper into debt and are prey to traffickers.

At the start of the intervention, over 16.5% of households in the communities were in bonded labour. Following the intervention, 0.7% reported they still had to work against a debt to their employer.

MSEMVS’ comprehensive strategy includes creation of Community Vigilance Committees, legal training, transitional schools, and income generation activities, and it links the groups together to achieve changes across a wider area.

The research found that communities supported by MSEMVS’ full intervention benefited in the following ways compared with similar communities:

  • Significantly reduced household debt.
  • 30% higher wage growth.
  • Increased access to free public health care.
  • It dramatically improved their access to Indian government protective schemes such as job cards under its rural employment guarantee.
  • Significantly increased the number of meals families reported eating per day.

Moreover, a strong majority of participants believed the community would be able to maintain these changes in future without MSEMVS’ on-going support.

According to one participant: “If we don’t get a good wage we refuse to work. We get to eat good quality food now. We have become more independent.”

The Freedom Fund has prepared a short Evidence in Practice Paper summarising the intervention, the research methods and results.

Read the full report published by the FXB Center here.