There is increasing recognition that the mainstream economic model is generating a deepening divide and hurting our planet. Modern slavery, the climate crisis, and the impact of data and technology on people are among the biggest challenges of our time.

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Economies are only truly inclusive when they are equitable, participatory and sustainable, and when they respect and preserve the environment around us.

According to Oxfam, the world’s 26 richest people own as much as 50% of the world’s poorest. The global economy is now five times larger than it was 50 years ago, but inequality is rising, and more people are excluded than ever. Around the world, 40.3 million people live in conditions of slavery. Ten million of them are children. 24.9 million of them trapped in forced labour, hiding at the bottom of global supply chains, and some 4.8 million people are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

The climate crisis has also risen to the top of the international agenda with global efforts being undertaken by governments and businesses alike to mitigate the consequences of rising global temperatures. Companies are moving towards the adoption of international ESG standards in the effort to raise transparency and accountability towards investors and the general public. New forms of impact investment and social enterprise are being developed and scaled globally.

What we do

We work with journalists, legal practitioners, civil society, policymakers and the private sector, with the aim of combatting modern slavery, fostering fair and sustainable economic and business models, and raising awareness of the impact of technology on people, society and freedoms.

We employ a unique blend of our expertise in journalism, media development, legal research and convening, with the aim of:

  • Fostering a fair and sustainable economic system
  • Ending modern slavery
  • Raising awareness of the impact of technology on society

Fostering fair and sustainable economic and business models

Economies can only be regarded as inclusive when they are equitable, participatory and sustainable. Inclusive economies are critical to shaping free, fair and informed societies. Since the global adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, CEOs and business leaders have been urged to provide a new type of leadership, pivoting the focus from shareholder profit to stakeholder value.

Multi-national companies have been embracing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria, a set of standards that socially conscious investors are increasingly using to screen potential sustainable investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, anti-corruption mechanisms, internal controls, and shareholder rights.

In parallel, the emergence of impact investment and social entrepreneurship has introduced new ways of using business to tackle social problems. The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) estimates the current size of the global impact investing market to be $502 billion. We create public awareness of the importance of this emerging global sector through our journalism, and provide valuable free legal support to social enterprises around the world.

We also leverage the ESG framework to engage businesses, the legal community, policymakers, civil society and social enterprise, to foster new approaches and decision-making models that take into account economic and social justice, together with environmental sustainability.


Award-winning journalism

Through our news coverage of social innovation and inclusive economies, with a focus on vulnerable and marginalised groups, we raise public awareness of the vital contribution missionled business and community initiatives can have on the health and wealth of society.

Our reporting also delves into the economic risks – and opportunities – that climate change presents and looks at how shifts in the way economies operate could help build a safer, fairer, greener and more resilient world for billions of people. It also examines how people – particularly the world’s most vulnerable – are adapting to economic risks driven by a heating planet.

Effectively combating climate change will require large-scale shifts in global economic structures. That might include putting a price on emitting pollution that causes the planet to heat, requiring companies to report their climate risks and, in general, taking potential impacts of runaway climate change into account in economic decision-making.

CASE STUDYTaking the pulse of social innovation

We teamed up with Deutsche Bank’s Made for Good global programme to conduct the first global poll that ranked the best countries for social entrepreneurship. We conducted the poll in 2016, and repeated the survey in 2019, highlighting areas of strength and weakness in the world’s 45 biggest economies and tracking changes over three years. Our findings gave social entrepreneurs, policymakers and investors an international tool for identifying best practice, leading to tangible policy improvements.

In the Netherlands, in response to our poll ranking the country poorly in 2016, its parliament committed to boosting support for social enterprise, with the goal of making the country one of the top 10 in the world for the sector.


Journalism training

In a world of information overload, we work with journalists, news organisations and partners to make sure environmental and sustainability issues remain at the top of the news agenda. Our partners include the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, helping journalists write compelling stories on the Sustainable Development Goals, cover health and child immunisation in India, and understand the myriad issues affecting those in rural poverty.

CASE STUDYReporting the Sustainable Development Goals

We partnered with the United Nations Foundation to train more than 700 journalists, and government and non-governmental communicators from 40 countries, on how to effectively report on the Sustainable Development Goals. The programme aimed to show how integral environment and sustainability issues are to political, economic and humanitarian news stories. It also raised the profile of international development projects that are often under-reported but have the power to transform global living standards.


CASE STUDYUnderstanding the Global Reporting Initiative

Companies from many sectors are coming under increasing scrutiny and pressure when it comes to sustainability reporting. There is a wealth of data and information on the sustainability strategies and efforts undertaken by companies. Thorough investigation of this publicly-available information can help journalists hold organisations to account and uncover stories on a wide array of themes, be they political, financial, social or environmental. In partnership with the Global Reporting Initiative, an international independent standards organisation that helps businesses, governments and other organisations understand and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights and corruption, we delivered an intensive workshop to journalists in India, Brazil and the Philippines. The workshop provided them with the information, tools and strategies they need to understand the complexities of sustainability and enable them to better report through that lens.


Legal research and structuring guides

We support innovative organisations that are addressing environmental, humanitarian and social problems, and strengthening the ecosystem in which they exist. We do so by providing more than 1,000 social enterprises, across 80+ countries, with pro bono legal advice from leading law firms.

We provide vital tools and resources, including guidance on navigating regulatory frameworks, accessing crowdfunding, and registering in various jurisdictions.

Additionally, we host accredited legal training on social enterprise and impact-investing for lawyers, which focuses on legal issues and trends in the burgeoning social innovation sector and provides lawyers with the skills and knowledge they need to advise clients.

CASE STUDYA guide to spearheading social enterprise

In partnership with law firm Tilleke & Gibbins, the British Council, and United Nations ESCAP, we developed the ASEAN Social Enterprise Structuring Guide.

The tool sets out the relevant registration procedures, regulatory and governance considerations, tax treatment, and finance and fundraising options, with the aim of forging a better understanding of the regulatory framework for this growing sector and ensuring the sustainability, good governance and success of social ventures.

This guide fills a much-needed gap in the Southeast Asian social enterprise sector for practical corporate structuring advice. It identifies a very real need and offers very practical solutions. We were immensely proud to help.
Eric M. Meyer, Tilleke & Gibbins


Convening initiatives

Our annual forum Trust Conference convenes leading experts, activists and innovators. The 2020 conference will dedicate a full day to addressing the need to build more inclusive and sustainable models of growth, and will explore practical approaches to creating socio-economic opportunities for marginalised groups, as well as the transition to greener economies.

Each year, our presence at the World Economic Forum in Davos is an opportunity to engage business leaders and harness the power of this global platform to discuss and debate issues at the forefront of the drive towards more inclusive economies.

Our 2020 Davos event ‘Putting Purpose into Practice’ explored how business models can shift focus from shareholders’ profit to stakeholders’ value. Co-hosted in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, our event included: Heerad Sabeti, CEO of the Fourth Sector Group; Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of the B Team; Michelle Milford Morse, VP for Girls and Women Strategy at the United Nations Foundation; Debra Walton, Chief Revenue Officer at Refinitiv; and Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India.

Combatting forced labour and human trafficking

According to the International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation, an estimated 40.3 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery. This number includes men, women and children who are held in forced and bonded labour and forced marriages, or have been trafficked for commercial sex or domestic servitude. Slavery is a hugely profitable business, estimated to be worth $150 billion a year.

We use our unique set of skills to support the whole anti-slavery ecosystem by raising awareness of the crime through authoritative reporting and journalism training, providing free legal assistance and research to anti-slavery organisations, and leading collaborative initiatives involving civil society, law enforcement, governments and corporations.


Award-winning journalism

We have built the world’s largest news team dedicated to reporting on slavery and trafficking, with journalists located in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Mexico, Brazil, the UK and the USA.

Our global news coverage has successfully contributed to raising public awareness around the many and complex issues related to slavery and human trafficking.

CASE STUDYPicked by slaves: coffee crisis brews in Brazil

Our six-month investigation uncovered extensive slave labour running largely unchecked through Brazil’s billion-dollar coffee industry, despite years of efforts to clean up the sector. Exclusively obtained data, analysis of public records, and dozens of interviews, revealed coffee produced by forced labour was stamped ‘slavery-free’ by top certification schemes and sold at a premium to major brands such as Starbucks and Nespresso. It was also exposed that government cuts to labour inspections had led to a sharp drop in the number of workers being rescued, leaving many without rights to a minimum wage, overtime pay, severance or state benefits. Our multimedia investigation was picked up by hundreds of international publications, reaching millions on social media.


Journalism training

Slavery is a difficult crime to cover. It requires skills ranging from investigative reporting to a deep understanding of defamation and privacy laws, and the risks that victims incur if exposed.

To spur better, more accurate and fair reporting on the issue, we train journalists around the world. To date, we have trained journalists in more than 20 countries, across four continents, in reporting on modern slavery and human trafficking.


Groundbreaking legal research

Modern slavery is a crime often hidden from view, and conviction rates are extremely low.

International and domestic laws already exist to address various aspects of modern slavery, including human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage. However, these laws are not applied often because the crimes are commonly misunderstood and the legislation is very difficult to enforce.

We bring together NGOs, social enterprises and law firms to map how existing laws are being used to counter modern slavery, and to identify crucial gaps in policy.

Our legal research programmes explore common trafficking and slavery scenarios across multiple countries, and examine the laws that apply to each. Our law firm members create tools to help frontline NGOs and lawyers secure more prosecutions, combat the culture of impunity for traffickers, and deliver justice for victims of trafficking and slavery.

CASE STUDYImproving working standards for the fishing industry in the Philippines

We connected Visayan Forum Foundation – a non-profit working towards ending modern-day slavery in the Philippines – with seven law firms, led by Linklaters. The lawyers conducted a critical examination of the rules and standards that protect fishers across 14 jurisdictions throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa and the US.

The report revealed that one of the major hurdles for fishers was the lack of recognition as ‘employees’ and, hence, the inability to enjoy the rights and protection provided by employment laws. It also emerged that with no dedicated ministry overseeing the fishing industry in the Philippines, the responsibilities for the sector were divided up among a multitude of government agencies, which inevitably led to the policing of fishers’ rights falling through the net.

Following the publication of the research, Visayan Forum Foundation was invited to participate in the ‘pre-boarding checks’ for fishers, effectively placing the NGO in the frontline of the fight to eliminate unacceptable work practices in the fishing industry. As a result, the Department of Labour and Employment released the Philippines’ first rules and regulations governing the working and living conditions of fishers.

This research is vital to further our efforts in protecting and empowering marginalised fishers, as it fills an important gap in legal knowledge that we service providers don’t have. Additionally, the research gives us an opportunity to lobby for reforms, conduct dialogues and share information with our partners!
Cecilia Flores Oebanda, Visayan Forum Foundation


Strategic initiatives

Launched in 2015, the Stop Slavery Award marked the first global recognition for businesses that had set a gold standard in efforts to eradicate forced labour from their supply chains. The initiative successfully ran for six years and was expanded in 2019 to acknowledge journalists, innovative solutions, impactful collaborations between sectors, public awareness campaigns, and grassroots organisations on the frontlines.

During that time, the Stop Slavery Award helped to demonstrate the critical role businesses can play in addressing modern slavery, drive transparency in the corporate sector, raise awareness of the crime to global audiences, and inspire companies and organisations to take action. The Award also facilitated connections between key stakeholders, with the annual award ceremony convening representatives from all sectors, geographies and professional backgrounds for the exchange of expertise and best practice.

CASE STUDYBanks Alliance

Recognising the powerful contribution the financial sector can make to the anti-trafficking movement, in 2013 the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the New York County District Attorney created the Banks Alliance Against Trafficking – a series of regional multi-stakeholder working groups that support financial institutions to fight human trafficking, using their data.

Over the past seven years, the Banks Alliance has grown to include the United States Banks Alliance, European Banks Alliance and Asia Pacific Banks Alliance. Each regional alliance has mapped the financial footprint of human trafficking in the formal banking system and produced toolkits that help financial institutions to refine their monitoring and investigation processes, and develop training programmes for staff.

All three regional toolkits have been formally endorsed by the Wolfsberg Group, the association of leading global banks that develops frameworks and guidance for the management of financial crime risks. The association recognises the benefits of using the toolkits and has urged its members and other financial institutions to put the indicators into practice, noting the importance of collaboration, information-sharing and partnership to tackle this crime.

The Thomson Reuters [Banks] Alliance groups now provide three Anti-Human Trafficking Toolkits, relevant across three substantial geographic regions, that are designed for specific use by banks and financial institutions in the fight against human trafficking. We positively endorse this work and the benefits of utilising these toolkits and all participants are to be congratulated on pursuing this initiative and setting an example for others to follow.
The Wolfsberg Group


Protecting and promoting data and digital rights

Data has become the world’s most valuable commodity. Economists have called it the ‘oil of the 21st Century’. But, unlike oil, data is a renewable source made by people who are constantly giving it away.

By 2035, the world will have a trillion connected computers. This new wave of computerisation is often referred to as ‘the internet of things’ (IoT). The ethical, practical and legal ramifications of the IoT are complex and crucial. The implications for people’s lives are immense.

Digital rights are a new frontier of human rights. We use all our services to raise awareness of the global impact of technology on people and society, providing legal frameworks and practical solutions to help navigate this constantly-evolving ecosystem. Our specific focus is on matters related to data privacy and data-led discrimination.


Groundbreaking journalism

In a world where digital technology is increasingly pervasive, our reporting uncovers the impact of data, algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) on people’s lives and society.

With new technological challenges constantly arising, our stories look at how people, governments and companies are adapting and responding in this uncharted digital environment.

Examples of our work include:


Legal research

Our legal research enables our NGO and social enterprise members to navigate the often uncharted and challenging territory of data regulation and legislation, allowing them to remain compliant and improve their organisational robustness.

CASE STUDYSupporting the NGO sector in navigating the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in 2018, introduced strict obligations in relation to the processing of personal data. Civil society organisations are subject to GDPR regulation but often lack the legal guidance needed to translate the new requirements into practical outcomes.

We published two guides and delivered webinar training for NGOs and social enterprises to help them understand how to comply:


Convening initiatives

Each year at the Trust Conference we convene digital rights experts, lawyers, policymakers, technologists and data rights NGOs to highlight and explore the many intersections between human rights and technology. The event offers a unique opportunity to dissect and make sense of some of the most complex human rights issues of our time, including whether we need to radically redefine our notions of privacy and consent in this digital age.

Additionally, throughout the year we host seminars and events in partnership with digital rights NGOs, such as an event held in the Netherlands looking at the implications of domestic laws that expand the powers of civil and military intelligence services to collect data en masse, titled ‘What does the secret service know about you?

What’s coming up?

Building on our solid track record, we will continue to expand our work to foster inclusive economies globally.

Currently, we are working towards:

  • The creation of a news team dedicated to the coverage of data and digital rights.
  • Additional news coverage of issues relating to socioeconomic inclusion, ESGs and the green economy.
  • Journalism training on data rights, socio-economic inclusion, sustainability and ESGs.
  • The launch of in-country multi-stakeholder convening initiatives (in Mexico and India) to raise awareness of forced labour and foster strategic collaboration.
  • The launch of a multi-stakeholder ESG taskforce including – among others – civil society, the financial sector and international law firms.
  • Additional legal support for social enterprises and NGOs working on socio-economic inclusion.
  • Additional legal support for data and digital rights NGOs.
  • Additional legal research on matters of privacy and discrimination.