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Legal strategies to fight slavery

Slavery persists despite being illegal under international law and in every country. Too often, governments, officials and businesses ignore their obligations to stamp it out.

To address this accountability gap, our Legal Strategies Initiative identifies and invests in approaches to institutionalise anti-slavery legal norms, encourage state and private actors to respect their human rights responsibilities and end impunity around slavery.

We have three strands of work under this initiative – the first focused on strategic litigation against states and corporations, the second building legal capacity of frontline organisations and the third on strengthening anti-slavery legal norms and frameworks.


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.

Since 2017 we have provided over $700,000 in grant funding to organisations including the Canadian Centre for International Justice, Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights to pursue anti-slavery strategic litigation. These grants are supporting ground-breaking legal efforts in North America and Europe to recognise transnational corporate accountability for the use of forced labour and human trafficking.

  • Since 2015 the Freedom Fund has partnered with the Human Trafficking Legal Center to use strategic litigation to combat trafficking and modern slavery. Our joint report Ending Impunity, Securing Justice provided a roadmap to building an international strategic litigation network focused on slavery. A follow-up report Fighting Impunity, Funding Justice explored potential areas of funding to ensure that litigation is strategic.
  • We are currently funding a project led by Minority Rights Group to pursue domestic anti-slavery litigation in Mauritania. This follows a previous grant to Minority Rights Group that supported a legal case against Mauritania before the African Union, resulting in a landmark decision condemning the government for failure to take adequate steps to prevent slavery.


In countries with a high prevalence of slavery, survivors often lack access to justice. Providing support to and learning from frontline NGOs and practitioners is central to the Freedom Fund’s Legal Strategies Initiative. In our hotspots, particularly northern India and Thailand, our local partners are using legal interventions to provide survivors with access to justice, as well as engage with law enforcement officials to improve, implement and enforce legislation criminalising slavery.

  • In 2015, in partnership with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, we published a report mapping the legal options and tools available in India to advance the fight against slavery and identifying where additional funding could be leveraged to achieve the maximum impact in this area.
  • In Mauritania, we have supported Anti-Slavery International and Minority Rights Group to build the capacity of local NGO SOS-Esclaves to work with and on behalf of the Haratine community in their efforts to end impunity around slavery.
  • In 2018 we plan to carry out a multi-country review of the legal interventions delivered by our hotspot partners to identify which approaches have been successful as well as key challenges in pursuing this work.


The UK Modern Slavery Act, the French corporate duty of vigilance law and US anti-trafficking regulations are just a few of the growing number of national and international legal mechanisms with the potential to have a major impact on anti-slavery efforts. However, there is still a long way to go to strengthen legal norms against slavery, implement robust enforcement regimes and provide victims with effective access to remedy.

Beyond the adoption and implementation of anti-slavery norms, other legal frameworks can provide alternative forms of action against those engaging in or profiting from slavery.

  • We commissioned a report by Liberty Asia investigating the applicability of US and UK anti-corruption legislation to prosecuting human traffickers.
  • In partnership with United Nations University, we provided support for a project on the role of international criminal justice in combatting modern slavery.
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