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Legal strategies

Modern slavery exists within and across jurisdictional boundaries. National laws may prohibit and criminalise modern slavery or create civil avenues of recourse to pursue abusers, but all too often these mechanisms are poorly enforced and the organisations seeking to use them are too poorly resourced.

Our Legal Strategies initiative seeks to ensure that the perpetrators of slavery, and those that are benefiting from their crimes, are held to account. Our goal is to strengthen existing legal frameworks on modern slavery, while supporting innovative approaches to creating new avenues of accountability.

We have three key strands of work under this initiative – the first focused on strategic litigation against states and corporations, the second on strengthening criminal justice approaches to ending slavery and the third on building networks and partnerships.

1. STRATEGIC LITIGATION

Strategic litigation is one of the most promising legal mechanisms in the fight to end slavery. It has the potential to drive legal reform, punish perpetrators and compel corporate action. It can also act as a genuine deterrent by increasing the costs – both financial and reputational – to those who profit from slavery.

We provide funding for anti-slavery strategic litigation that seeks to establish important legal precedents to eliminate modern slavery. Our grants have supported ground-breaking legal efforts across the world – from criminal proceedings against European companies implicated in widely publicised abuses of South Asian workers on construction sites in Qatar; to supporting migrant workers and activists in Thailand being sued for criminal defamation by corporations against which they have alleged forced labour practices. In particular, we actively seek out opportunities to support innovative legal strategies that are pushing the frontiers of corporate accountability.

2. STRENGTHENING CRIMINAL JUSTICE APPROACHES TO ENDING SLAVERY

Domestic legislation criminalising trafficking and slavery offences exists in the majority of countries, but enforcement is patchy at best and successful prosecutions are rare. The perpetrators of modern slavery therefore face little or no risk that the human rights violations that they commit will result in criminal penalties.

Across the Freedom Fund’s hotspots, local NGOs are involved in supporting survivors to access justice, training law enforcement officials and advocating for the enforcement of effective legislation criminalising slavery offences. Our work under this global initiative seeks to amplify these efforts by strengthening criminal justice approaches within and beyond our hotspots – to be shaped by an upcoming multi-country review of legal interventions delivered by our frontline partners – as well as by supporting the development of norms of corporate criminal responsibility.

3. BUILDING NETWORKS AND PARTNERS

Slavery is a crime that crosses borders, sectors and jurisdictions. It requires a global, coordinated response. This means that alongside funding litigation and research, it is equally important to support movement building in this space.

Since 2015 we have partnered with the Human Trafficking Legal Center to build a global anti-slavery strategic litigation network, and we continue to seek out opportunities to support the creation and expansion of coalitions working towards common goals of accountability. Another key element of our movement building role involves collaborating with donors to raise awareness of the role of the law in tackling modern slavery, as well as increase funding for anti-slavery legal work.

Read the new strategy for our Legal Strategies Initiative

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