Freedom Fund

The use of forced labour is relatively widespread in the Brazilian charcoal industry

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Notice about research

Giving What We Can no longer conducts our own research into charities and cause areas. Instead, we're relying on the work of organisations including J-PAL, GiveWell, and the Open Philanthropy Project, which are in a better position to provide more comprehensive research coverage.

These research reports represent our thinking as of late 2016, and much of the information will be relevant for making decisions about how to donate as effectively as possible. However we are not updating them and the information may therefore be out of date.

The Freedom fund is a private donor fund dedicated to identifying and investing in the most effective front-line efforts to end slavery.

Overall, we are much less certain about the impact of a donation to the Freedom Fund as we would be to be other more thoroughly vetted charities, but we believe there it is reasonable to assume that the charity will have a relatively high impact.

What is the problem? The 2014 Global Slavery Index estimates that globally there are 35.8 million people who live in modern slavery. This takes a substantial toll on psychological, physical health.

How does this charity address it? The Freedom fund regrants funds to other organisations that:

  • mobilize additional donations to anti-slavery programmes;
  • support research and mapping anti-slavery efforts through research grants (for instance, the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University);[1]
  • engage in direct anti-slavery interventions such as freeing slaves;[1:1] and
  • advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch.[1:2]

1. Cost-effectiveness

The cost-effectiveness of combating human trafficking is difficult to estimate. However, according to some figures that seem roughly plausible, the cost-effectiveness might be very high (although significantly lower than the most cost-effective public health interventions).

Dividing the total programme costs by the number of freed slaves, and disregarding the other benefits of the work done such as giving people information about trafficking risks and rights, according to its own estimates it costs $657 to liberate a slave in India.[2] This figure is comparable to the number quoted by our expert interviewee.

2. Robustness of evidence

We are not aware of any randomized controlled trials of the programmes effectiveness. However, the Freedom Fund gives grants to independent evaluators such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to “evaluate the targeting of interventions, assess progress, measure outputs and also assess likely outcomes of the […] activities”.[3] and seems to generally have strong focus on monitoring and evaluation of its programmes

The Freedom Fund seems to have a strong focus on quantitative measures as it uses very concrete measures such as ‘# of lives impacted’, ‘#of slavery victims liberated’, ‘% of survivors free after two years’, ‘# of slavery victims liberated with follow up support’, ’# of arrests’, ‘# of convictions’, ‘# of victims and survivors accessing psychosocial services’, ‘change in public policy’, ‘# of media stories generated’ etc.[4]. We do not know in how far these measures are assessed in practice as the programmes evaluations are not public, but we think of this as a good sign.

3. Track record and quality of implementation

We have asked two experts on their opinion on the Freedom Fund and they have both recommended donating to the Freedom Fund.

According to those experts and our impression, the Freedom Fund seems to have relatively strong monitoring, evaluation and transparency. Experts also mentioned that the Freedom Fund is run by highly qualified individuals. Kevin Bales is on the board of the Freedom Fund and many expert told us that he is an authority in this field, which strengthens our view of the Freedom Fund.

4. Room for more funding

Additional funds are likely to be regranted to new or existing partners. However, we cannot be sure for which programme exactly additional funds will be used.

The Freedom Fund was founded by three billionaires,[5] who have a combined wealth of about $11 billion. They invested a combined sum of $30 million in the Freedom fund with the aim of leveraging an additional $70 million in additional investments by 2020. Given the scale of the problem, we believe that the Freedom Fund could use more funds productively in the long-term. However, there might be a concern of being fungible with these bigger donors i.e. that in the absence of smaller donations, they would jump in and fill any funding gap of the most promising projects (for more on fungibility see [6]). If this is a big concern we would recommend giving to an organisation with very high scalability such as GiveDirectly who have space for much more funding. Moreover, according to one expert, this sector is growing rapidly and due to the cause being emotionally appealing to other donors, this cause might soon come to be much less neglected than other less emotionally laden causes (such as parasitic diseases).

5. Additional notes

Poverty and its associated effects seem to fuel trafficking and slavery. Poverty is one of the main causative factors for trafficking.[7] Orphans are also particularly vulnerable to trafficking and diseases such as AIDS fuel trafficking.[8] Low levels of education and literacy also seem to be risk factors associated with being trafficked 12. Thus, donations to AMF and GiveDirectly (as two of the most effective interventions) may potentially curb slavery and trafficking by mitigating the socioeconomic conditions in which these problems thrive.

6. Footnotes

  1. "Our Partners | The Freedom Fund." 2015. 11 Jan. 2016 <> ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. " Freedom Fund." 2015. 11 Jan. 2016 < > ↩︎

  3. "London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine." 2015. 11 Jan. 2016 <> ↩︎

  4. "FF global metrics FINAL 28Nov14.xlsx - Freedom Fund." 2015. 11 Jan. 2016 < > ↩︎

  5. "Freedom Fund - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." 2015. 11 Jan. 2016 <> ↩︎

  6. "Giving What We Can's Recommendations for Giving Season …" 2015. 11 Jan. 2016 <> ↩︎

  7. Mathias, WJ, and KA McCabe. "Sex trafficking in the countries of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe." Sex trafficking: a global perspective. Rowman and Littlefield, New York (2010). ↩︎

  8. Kreston, Susan S. "Trafficking in children in South Africa: An analysis of pending legislation." Child Abuse Research in South Africa 8.1 (2007): 35-50. ↩︎