Fashion model fights modern slavery

Slavery in the 19th century. (Creative Commons license)

There are more slaves today than there were at the height of the slave trade. It is estimated that there are around 29 million people enslaved all over the world, struggling to survive.

SAS students who were asked to share what they knew about modern-day slavery were confused.

“What is that?”

“It happens in North America?” said two students of SAS. 

Out of the 20 students who were interviewed about modern-day slavery, only eight knew exactly what it was and only three knew it did not only occur in places most people would guess: Africa and South Asia. Forced labor happens everywhere, but people do not seem to be able to grasp the idea that modern-day slavery happens in New York, Venezuela, Brazil and many of the other economically thriving countries.

But one unlikely person has stepped forward to try to help stop this ongoing tragedy. Katie Ford may have started her career as a model and CEO of Founders Model in New York City, but today, she is a leader in helping to eradicate slave labor all over the world. She has started the foundation, Freedom For All, and consulted on the City of New York’s 2010 human trafficking awareness campaign. The foundation develops and is responsible for growing a campaign on the issues of Human Trafficking and many other forms of modern slavery.

“In each of the countries we are campaigning for, like Brazil, the Philippines, Montenegro, Ireland, Nigeria and more, we have Freedom For All partners with a local anti trafficking organization to create media events that would increase the interests about local organization’s efforts and resources,” Ford replied in an email interview.

According to, there are approximately 19 million people in forced labor in the private economy, 4.5 million in forced sexual exploitation and 14.2 million in forced labor exploitation such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing. With this many people involved in slave labor, around 7% of all the slave laborers are in the developed economies such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.  

Surprisingly, many of the students at SAS are from these developed countries but are completely unaware of the forced labor happening around them. The Philippines’ campaign was officially launched in 2009 and has since expanded on the project of stopping human slavery in the area. The Foundation has produced a video with help from young, well-known Filipino models and actors who speak to the young community about raising awareness. Using models help to target the younger audience that is most at risk of being trafficked as Child Labor in the Philippines is an ongoing issue. The PSA was played on television, at events and in malls to warn people about the potential dangers of working abroad.

“On the other hand, the video in Brazil was done at the request of the Brazilian Department of Emigration. It promotes a booklet the Department did to warn citizens about the dangers of being lured with the promise of becoming a chef, soccer player or model. These are the professions that people are constantly being lured with.” Katie Ford stated in an e-mail interview.

The Brazil’s campaign was officially launched in 2012 and produced the PSA with famous Brazilian models and actresses trying to talk to other young people who are hopeful for careers and are raising awareness about false promises and fabricated truths about foreign workers.

SAS students who were told that modern slavery is happening around them and in places near them were shocked. These kinds of responses made up almost 75% of the reactions 20 students interviewed about this issue of SAS had.

“I never even thought that could happen in America.”

“Wow, that is a little hard to believe.”

It may be hard for students to grasp the fact that slavery is happening in places we call our homes and beautiful countries we visit over the summer on a vacation. But with the work of foundations like Freedom for All, young people will start to understand that slavery, something that started and was believed to have ended long ago, is still happening today. For more information about Katie Ford’s foundation, click here.

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