07/30/2014 11:14 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2014

A Day in the Unending Fight Against Modern Slavery

It is a very encouraging sign of the new urgency given to modern slavery that the first World Day against Trafficking in Persons is being marked today.

I suspect, as usual, there will be some who wonder what such official recognition achieves. I don't share their skepticism.

The UN and Ban KI-moon deserve real praise for driving trafficking and slavery up the international agenda in recent years.

Their authority has helped focus efforts and resources on the plight of the millions of victims that the Secretary-General has rightly said "live unrecognized among us."

The World Day against Trafficking in Persons will make it more difficult for member states to continue to ignore the undertakings they have signed to root out this shameful crime within their borders and internationally.

Trafficking, like slavery itself, touches every country. But while they are global in their reach and corrosive in their impact on our societies, it is at the individual level that its true horror hits us.
When I visited Ethiopia earlier this year, Kassach told me her of her ordeal after she took a job in the Middle East as a domestic servant.

It is position which all too often can involve long hours, bad conditions and the risk of abuse. She was aware of those risks.

However, the situation she found herself in was far, far worse. Punishing hours, unremitting and exhausting work and no pay for months on end. And when she complained, she was taken to a police station, locked up for three days without food, then raped by the police and bundled on a plane back to Addis Ababa. She was suffering for severe physical and mental injuries, and once back in Ethiopia was nursed back to health by a small, often overwhelmed refuge that helps women who have survived servitude.

To prevent abuses like those suffered by Kassach requires, as the UN has said, every country to meet its obligations in deed as well as in words.

It requires international co-operation to identify and bring to justice the criminals behind these abuses.

But this must be matched with effective action on the ground.

Kassach was helped not by global legal documents but by a local community organization that nursed her back to physical and mental health.

We need to support the organizations who are helping free those trapped in slavery and leading the efforts to rehabilitate and return them home.

The team at Freedom Fund have already seen in India and Nepal just what a difference such grassroots initiatives are making to lives and communities.

By identifying and supporting these community efforts and helping scale up their work, we can make real the ambitions of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons and the global fight against slavery.

And that, of course, is exactly what all at the Freedom Fund are determined to help achieve.