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3 principles for building a successful collaboration to fight modern slavery

Expert Series: 3 principles for building a successful collaboration to fight modern slavery

About the author:

Camila Gómez Wills is a program manager with 5 years of experience working with private firms, government agencies, and international funders to develop actionable responsible sourcing policies. She develops bespoke strategies to address high-risk ESG business issues and is known for her ability to communicate effectively across a broad range of audiences. She cares deeply about human dignity and agency and is dedicated to finding solutions for responsible sourcing as well as best practices to ultimately put an end to modern slavery in our supply chains.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s considered opinion

Collaboration is widely recognized as a key element in the fight against modern slavery, a complex crime with no catchall solutions. Since 2000, the US Department of State added Partnerships to their original “3P” framework to combat human trafficking – prevention, protection, and prosecution being the other pillars of the strategy. Nonetheless, effective collaboration and partnerships are difficult to foster, and there is a commonly held belief that even though we need to collaborate, efforts to do so tend to fail for a variety of reasons, including historical tensions between stakeholders or difficulties in sharing data. 

In her book “Collaborating Against Human Trafficking” (2015) Kirsten Foot, a researcher at the University of Washington, set out to identify what collaboration against human trafficking actually needs to look like in order for it to work. Although her work focuses specifically on human trafficking, many of the elements she identifies as key success factors, apply to modern slavery more broadly speaking. First of all, it is important to define collaboration. The author suggests we understand it as “a complex interaction between human agency, interpersonal dynamics, and the wider social, political, and economic contexts in which it takes place.” As such, efforts to collaborate need to recognize each of these elements, namely the contexts in which each party operates, and the interests or beliefs that guide them.

There are three key elements that she highlights as important groundwork for successfully collaborating: 

1) The need to overcome the traditional (and somewhat naïve) understanding that collaborators have an equal distribution of power and instead recognizing that disparate levels of power to act, influence, and control, shape all inter and intra organizational interactions;

2) Explicitly recognize the role that race and gender dynamics can play in anti-trafficking collaboration efforts and make an effort to include diverse identities and lived experiences in the partnership efforts; 

3) Acknowledge the role that differing values and beliefs have in shaping the priorities of organizations and respect the irreconcilable differences that may arise during the course of the work.

Overall, at the root of successful collaboration strategies there lies respect, trust and a deep sense of perseverance. Whether it be individually in our personal actions, or as part of the organization that we work for, we each have a role to play in ending modern slavery. Together, we can slowly move the needle towards a world in which all human beings have the agency to choose their employment terms, and the economic freedom to use their wages in the way that they see fit.