OPINION: People power and a princess: The role of royalty in today’s anti-slavery movement

by Joanna Ewart-James | Freedom United
Wednesday, 14 August 2019 15:30 GMT

Britain's Princess Eugenie arrives by horse and carriage on ladies day at Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, Britain - June 20, 2019. Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We need powerful voices like Princess Eugenie’s to help build the space and political will necessary for change to what is holding survivor leaders back

Joanna Ewart-James is Freedom United executive director.

People power is about shaking up the status quo, exactly what is needed if we’re to secure a world in which modern forms of slavery no longer thrive. If people power is the key to progress, how does the voice of royalty fit in?

The public, led by people and communities directly affected by modern slavery, are and must be recognised as major stakeholders in achieving progress. Social movements have proven time and again throughout history, that they’re what’s needed for sustainable change. Consider the women’s liberation and the civil rights movements to name just two.

However the anti-slavery movement has a job to do to change perceptions of modern slavery in order to encourage and build solidarity — not pity — with survivors, victims and affected communities, so that they are empowered to lead calls for the changes they experientially know can help end this crime. Their recommendations must be heard as others stand alongside. A reality which despite the growth in interest in the subject, we are still a long way off achieving.

And this is where Princess Eugenie fits in. Granddaughter to Queen Elizabeth II, she founded The Anti-Slavery Collective with her best friend Julia de Boinville to highlight the work of anti-slavery charities around the world and raise awareness.

Changing perceptions and raising awareness of modern slavery may seem like trivial problems, but they’re not. When the reference point for recognising human trafficking is not reflective of reality, it means people are blind to potential abuses happening right before their eyes. When it is clouded by discrimination, hostile attitudes towards migrants take precedence over needs for protection.

The Anti-Slavery Collective’s approach, centred on putting nonprofits’ work at the forefront, helps inform the Princess’s messaging, which for an issue that is readily sensationalized and inaccurately represented, gives much succor to survivors who rather than focusing on leading the fight, are often dealing with the daily struggles of stigma or perhaps navigating immigration rules.

Princess Eugenie said: “Now is the time to talk about this. This is on everyone’s mind and if it isn’t, we’ll make it on their minds.” And people are ready to listen. Her Instagram posts typically receive upwards of 50,000 likes. Her recent announcement that The Collective is working with Freedom United on a podcast series was picked up by several media outlets in a matter of hours.

Through the podcast, new audiences of tens and even hundreds of thousands are expected to be reached, many of whom are yet to be activated on modern slavery. And those who do listen, will join Princess Eugenie and Julia de Boinville as they meet and talk to leaders about their work fighting against modern slavery. The first series is anticipated later this year.

This clout in exposure is what anti-slavery organisations can only dream of. Funding is limited, often focused on service provision or on the ground prevention programmes where available, and wholly inadequate for the crucial task of raising awareness in a constructive manner that leads to much needed change in policy and practice.

Since we are yet to win the battle for survivor leaders and vulnerable communities to be at the forefront so that those directly affected by modern slavery are the movement’s drivers, we need powerful voices like Princess Eugenie’s to help build the space and political will necessary for change to what is holding survivor leaders back.

That’s why there is not only a role for a member of the Royal Family, but a need for many more people to actively engage in helping end it, across all walks of life, so that we might see a shift from the status quo that allows modern slavery to thrive to a world in which it is no longer tolerated. At Freedom United, we are hopeful that the podcast series will help do just that.

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