We will only end slavery if we work together
We will only end slavery if we work together. Last year I spoke of my work with International Justice Mission (IJM) in the Philippines where I helped to prosecute those who trafficked children in the sex trade. I‘m now am a lawyer working with an international corporate law firm in London. My firm is one of the ten largest law firms in the world. They do business in every corner of the globe and are frequently instructed on the world’s most high profile corporate mandates.
But why would you care about that? Because they also give over 56,000 hours of free “pro bono” work a year to charities—and that’s worth a bit over $23 million USD. What they have found out over the course of their nearly 300 year history is that lawyers frequently want to do more than just earn money; they want to do more than just sign the largest deals or win the most complex commercial cases. There is a dormant hunger in the corporate world for more than just money—a hunger for meaning. No one disputes that there is a deep desire within each of us here for connection with those that suffer. But we must also know that that same desire lies dormant in the hearts of those who work for the world’s largest law firms, banks and investment firms—because both the corporate lawyer and the NGO worker are made in the image of God.
Our challenge is to re-imagine how we can engage the corporate world to join us in the fight to end slavery; because we will only end slavery if we work together.
At IJM we have over 1300 Alumni (people like me who have worked on the front lines of counter-trafficking doing sting operations, counselling victims, prosecuting traffickers) and now they have all returned to their host countries—all doing different work. But many of them are now corporate lawyers, working for global law firms. My role now within IJM has been re-connecting with these Alumni and seeing how they would like to re-engage with the work of front line counter-trafficking—and specifically how they can engage their law firms with this work.
We have had really encouraging results. In our first year alone we have secured formal partnerships with two global law firms. This has led to the completion of three different projects by corporate law firms that have focussed on both: (i) the elimination of police brutality in East Africa; and (ii) the eradication of the cyber-sex trade for children in the Philippines. These projects have contributed over  pro-bono hours’ worth over $[100,000] to the fight to end violence against the poor; and we are just getting started. Why are we doing this?
Firstly, because NGOs like IJM and law firms like mine need each other. Counter trafficking NGOs have experts on the ground and they have experience of the work, but they don’t have lots of money and they don't have human resources. Corporate law firms don’t have experts on the ground doing sting operations but they do have money and they do have lawyers eager to help with the work.
Secondly, we are doing this because it brings the issue of slavery into the minds of working professionals, into the corridors of power and into corporate boardrooms. We are seeing this happening in the UK with the passing of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA). The MSA is a piece of law which requires all UK companies grossing over £36 million to report on what they are doing to ensure their supply chains are slavery free. Historically, slavery has been something concealed and hidden from view. Involving corporate law firms in the fight to end slavery, builds on the work of the MSA, bringing slavery into the light and onto the agenda of the world’s legal elite.
Thirdly, we are doing this because there is a hunger, a dormant hunger, within the realm of corporate law to change the world. I constantly talk with young lawyers at my firm about IJM, about helping with counter trafficking operations. But most of the time I am not the one who raises the topic! Most of the time it is them coming up to me saying, “Rob when can we work for IJM? Can I help out too? Can I be on the team? What is the first project we can do?”.
Finally, we are doing this because the end of slavery necessitates a global movement. Global law firms have the ability, the power in their hands to massively increase the ability of local NGOs (like IJM) to effectively prosecute traffickers globally. If we are serious about ending slavery, we must work to leverage this power. We will only end slavery if we work together. In the same way that the ending of slavery requires unity between the Catholic and Protestant church, between faith groups and between governments—so too the ending of slavery requires the unification of the corporate boardroom and the local NGO.
In the Philippines I used to ride into work on the back of a motorbike with the sun on my face. It was a good life. My colleagues and I faced the daily challenges of journeying with clients who were recovering from years of sexual abuse. Daily, we were engaged in the business of the transformation of people’s lives—a challenging but rich existence, full of joy: an abundant life.
In London when I take the crammed underground train to work it sometimes seems that London’s work force (although one of the wealthiest on the planet) experience anything but an abundant life. Faces are tired and suits are grey. No one talks to each other. Not many understand the impact of their work; they just know that it makes them money; they know that they want more money; and they know (deep within) that not even that will satisfy them.
Sometimes I am tempted to think that I am a part of a ghost population of walking dead men. But then I think of when God showed Ezekiel a vast valley, full of dead corpses, a valley of very dry bones. And He says: “Son of man can these bones live?”
And he gets Eziekel to speak over the bones saying “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.” And then there is this noise, a rattling sound, and the bones come together, bone to bone. He looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them. He speaks over them and breath fills them and they stand – a vast army. No longer dry, dead bones but a living, vast army breathing and alive.
Once I was tempted to think in London that I am a part of a ghost population of walking dead men so disconnected from those who are enslaved, so disconnected from a heart of compassion. But I am not. Where once I saw dry bones, I now see an army. Where I once saw grey suits and tired eyes, I now see walking giants.
The movement to end slavery is a team effort—it is one that necessitates the rousing of sleeping giants and the raising of vast armies from the Church, from the NGO sector, from the political arena, but also from the corporate sector. Because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Because we will only end slavery if we work together.